2014 FIFA WORLD CUP PREVIEWS – GROUP F

ARGENTINA

argentinaTwo time world champions Argentina qualified for this summer’s world cup with relative ease. La Albiceleste will be playing on their home continent, and their familiarity with the heat and concentrated humidity will serve them well against teams. Argentina were largely inconsistent at the previous World Cup under the stewardship of football legend Diego Maradona but under Sabella, they look better organised, much more pragmatic. He has named a largely experienced squad which is well balanced and fully adapted to the different styles on their group opponents.

Players like Ezequiel Garay, Pablo Zabaleta and Javier Mascherano will provide solid platform for the attacking stars to operate. Angel Di Maria who had a fantastic season in his midfield role for Real Madrid will play a pivot role between the midfield and attack. His energetic runs and dribbles makes him a difficult opponent to stop.

Argentina need not look further than Lionel Messi for inspiration. He is definitely their star man. His 327 goals in 395 appearances for Barcelona is an outstanding goal return which all La Albiceleste supporters will be looking for him to replicate in the blue and white stripes.

Under Sabella, he has been operating in an advanced role on the right-hand-side, with Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero joining him in a fearsome looking triumvirate of attacking players. But they are a flexible trio; giving Argentina’s attacking forays wonderful flexibility.

Winning the World Cup will definitely make Messi one of the greatest that ever played the game. Argentina have the offensive fire power to go all the way. Failure to at least reach the final and then ultimately win it will be a bitter disappointment for Sabella’s side and Lionel Messi.

It’s probably now or never for Messi at the FIFA World Cup.

 

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA

bosniaAfter missing out on qualification for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 at the play-off stage to Portugal on both occasions, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be making an appearance at the finals of a major tournament for the first time in their history in Brazil. The Dragons qualified by finishing on the same points as Greece in UEFA Group G, but with 30 goals scored in 10 games their superior goal difference of plus 24 ensured that they finished in first place. They have been grouped with favorites Argentina, African champions Nigeria and Iran in Group F. Whilst it will be their first ever appearance in at the FIFA World Cup, when you look at their squad it is no surprise that they have qualified; it is packed with technical players and well established goal scorers. The team played a dynamic brand of attacking football. Their preferred 4-1-3-2 formation allowed offensive talents like Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic and Senad Lulic freedom to express themselves, whilst Miralem Pjanic knits everything together wonderfully in the middle of the park.

Edin Dzeko is his country’s all-time top goalscorer and highest profile player, but Miralem Pjanic performance could be key to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s success this summer. The 24-year-old AS Roma midfielder is the team’s most creative player and will look to reproduce moments of individual brilliance shown in Serie A this past season such as the ‘cucchiaio,’ spoon-like lob, from outside the box against Hellas Verona and the slalom run through the AC Milan defence on the international stage.

With Argentina favourites to win Group F, Bosnia and Herzegovina are expected to rival Nigeria for the runner-up spot. The pivotal game in Group F is their meeting with the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations winners in the second group game in Cuiaba. It’s a winner take all game. A second round berth is not beyond reach.

 

IRAN

iranTeam Melli emerged from qualifying as the number one ranked team in Asia. They are slowly establishing themselves as a force in the international game. This is Iran’s fourth appearance in the competition, and they are yet to make it out of the group stages. This trend looks set to continue as they are many people’s pick to become the whipping boys of Group F.

Head coach, Carlos Queiroz knew he had a tough job when taking on the Iran national team in 2011. Queiroz has given Iran a clear strategy. Iran are well organised and difficult to break down. Yet with exciting attacking players going forward, they can be deadly on the counter and will aim to exploit any gaps left in the opposition defence. The former Portugal coach is a hard task master who insists on high standards but he has created a siege mentality around the side which has helped to form a very close knit group of players. Since taking the job, Queiroz has always defended his players, especially when they have been written off by the press.

Javad Nekounam is the country’s captain and plays as a defensive midfielder, breaking up opposition attacks and starting attacks with simple but effective passes. Scoring the solitary goal in the home win against South Korea, he went on to net a further three goals in the qualifying phase, including a brace against Indonesia. For the 4-2-3-1 formation to be effective, Iran will need Nekounam to have more possession than any other player within their ranks. If Iran can afford him the time to lift his head, expect Nekounam to caress the ball around the park and hammer the occasional strike towards the opposition goal.

Iran have been to three World Cup finals, but have fallen at the group stage each time. They are likely to fail for a fourth time to reach the knockout round of the World Cup.

 

NIGERIA

nigeriaThe West African giants conquered Africa during the last African Nations Cup, the Super Eagles dispatched Ethiopia during the World Cup play offs to secure their place in Brazil. Nigeria’s preparation to the World Cup has its hitches already; dispute between the football federation and head coach on selection of players, players seeking clarification on bonuses, etc.

Stephen Keshi sets up his team in a defensive manner, then looks to counter attack with plenty of pace and power. This team has an abundance of talented athletes but is also young and hungry. While this is an exciting prospect, it can often lead to the abandonment of what can be a sound defensive structure. Getting a balance right is crucial. The midfield symmetry is a puzzle yet to be solved by the technical crew. The team needs a creative mind that will make dazzling runs and offer the wingers option while supporting the lone striker in Keshi’s 4-3-3 system.

John Mikel Obi is Nigeria’s key player. The athletic Chelsea man has been much improved for his club over the past few seasons and this form has translated into his international play, where he has been a key man in the heart of the Nigeria midfield.

He is the anchor in midfielder, a skilled passer and a tough tackler. These attributes help release and accentuate the qualities of players around him. Most notably blocking off the midfield and releasing counter attacks for his quick and powerful front men. He needs to be switched on defensively and seamless in transitioning the ball from defence, through midfield and into attack.

The Super Eagles are expected that the battle with Bosnia to finish as runners-up of the group behind Argentina. They would either be a hit or miss at the World Cup.

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