Things seem to be pretty clear in Group F of the 2014 World Cup. Argentina, with Lionel Messi in his big moment 2.0, as the big favorites to finish first and go very far in the tournament. Bosnia and Nigeria seem to be in the mix for the second spot while Iran will be lucky to get a point out of a difficult foursome they’ve been drawn into.
But things don’t always develop that way. Argentina have a susceptible defense and goalkeeper. For Bosnia, this is the first time in a major tournament. Nigeria are often (and again this time) filled with inner strife and turmoil. Iran might be defensive, but not playing pretty football never stopped certain teams from succeeding.
This will be the second World Cup in which Lionel Messi has to carry the burden of being compared to Diego Maradona – of carrying a national team that has an incredibly talented attack but a poor defense and especially goalkeeper situation. Is he capable? Messi is the best player in the world, but it takes more than just him to make your way through a seven match tournament, if he actually goes that far.
The key man for Argentina might turn out to be Angel di Maria. The Real Madrid star is the only creative force in the Argentina midfield, playing a more central role than he does for his club. His ability to create for others will be the difference between Messi doing too much on his own and the Argentina side worried more about how many goals to score than being exposed time and time again on the counter attack.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
On a good day this should be one of the more enjoyable teams to watch in this tournament. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic were the vanguard in the qualifiers for a team that used to play a 4-1-3-2, giving techincal midfielders led by Miralem Pjanic their due respect, but there’s a chance that in their first ever major tournament, Safet Sušić might try playing it a little bit safe and go with just Dzeko up front to start with.
The problem for Bosnia will be defensively. They have an excellent goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic, but aside from Emir Spahić, the team captain from Leverkusen, it’s hard to even predict what back four Susic will go with, lacking experience and frankly quality, especially when they’ll come up with a side like Argentina. Bosnia seem like the second best team in the group. However, it’ll probably come down to their match with Nigeria to determine who qualifies along with the favorites.
There’s never a shortage of attacking talent on the Nigerian team, but there seems to be some loss of momentum compared to the side that won the African Cup of Nations with style. Victor Moses had a bad season with Liverpool and John Obi Mikel wasn’t much of a factor for Chelsea. A team that loves to play counter attacking football, using the speed of Moses and Emmanuel Emenike might have problems that have nothing to do with football.
Stephen Keshi managed to put together a side that didn’t fall apart to bickering and ego as it usually does can’t get his way forever. The tournament was preceded with the usual payment arguments with the football federation and players themselves becoming unhappy. Some think that the match fixing scandal from before the tournament might have its effect on a team that has enough talent to finish second and even give Argentina some problems when the two meet.
The big underdogs of this group and one of the weakest teams, on paper, to enter the tournament, despite being automatic qualifiers from the Asian tournament. Only six players are on European sides and not the most prestigious of them. Captain Javad Nekounam is the team’s engine and main executor from the midfield, but there are also high hopes for Steven Beitashour and Ashkan Dejagah to be of great help and maybe cause a huge sensation.
We won’t be seeing great football from Iran. Carlos Quieroz believes in defensive football, conceding only two goals through the qualifiers. However, they’ll have a lot of problems finding the net, while this defense isn’t good enough to be impregnable when deploying the bus parking tactics. All signs point towards Iran being a team everyone wants to play, but sometimes a big unknown factor has the advantage of the surprise element.