World Cup: Is this the year Lionel Messi delivers for Argentina? | Group F Preview
This is the sixth of eight World Cup group previews as the days tick away to the tournament opener on June 12 in São Paulo between Brazil and Croatia. For comprehensive World Cup coverage, bookmark this page.
- Look for Group G and H previews on Thursday, June 5
Argentina (7th in FIFA rankings) | First-place finish in CONMEBOL | 37-20-13 all-time, two-time champions
Bosnia-Herzegovina (25th) | First-place finish in UEFA Group G | first-ever appearance
Iran (37th) | First-place finish in AFC Group A | 1-6-2 all-time
Nigeria (44th) | Defeated Ethiopia 4-1 in CAF playoff | 4-8-2 all-time
140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
From a cultural standpoint, this group is about as diverse and interesting as it gets in the World Cup. From a soccer standpoint, it's all about Argentina.
DAVID AND GOLIATH
Argentina are undoubtedly one of the favories to win the World Cup this time around, in part because of their familiarity with playing in South America and also because they're just really, really good. Winning CONMEBOL is no joke, even if Brazil skipped the round.
As for Bosnia-Herzegovina, it's tough not to root for them to survive (which they should) into the knockout round. They're the only team in the tournament for the first time, after a heatbreaking playoff-series loss to Portgual in 2010.
If it's fair to assume Argentina will grab the top spot coming out of this group (and it is), then the battle for second place comes down to a matchup between Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 21 in Cuiabá. Bosnia-Herzegovina's attacking prowess is well known, but can they overcome the speed and power of Nigeria, and imposing goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama?
|June 15 | 3 PM||Argentina||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro|
|June 16 | 3 PM||Iran||Nigeria||Arena da Baixada, Curitiba|
|June 21 | 12 PM||Argentina||Iran||Estádio Mineirão, Belo Horizonte|
|June 21 | 6 PM||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Nigeria||Arena Pantanal, Cuiabá|
|June 25 | 12 PM||Nigeria||Argentina||Estádio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre|
|June 25 | 12 PM||Bosnia-Herzegovina||Iran||Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador|
Sergio Agüero, F, Argentina – One of a number of world-class attacking options for Argentina, Agüero scored 17 goals in 23 league appearances for Manchester City last season. Although he provided a spark off the bench for Argentina in 2010, he's fitted for a larger role this time around at 26 years old, and he scored both goals of his team's 2-0 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina last November in St. Louis.
Edin Dzeko, F, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Standing 6-foot-4 with the weight of his country's World Cup hopes on his shoulders, there's nothing subtle about what the 28-year-old Dzeko brings to his team. He was the second-leading goalscorer in UEFA qualification with 10 goals in 10 games, and he finished with 16 goals in 31 EPL games for Manchester City last season. Can he help lift spirits back in Sarajevo?
Lionel Messi, F, Argentina – Somehow, people have soured slightly on Messi in the walkup to this World Cup, the third of the Argentine midfield maestro's career. His one career knock, of course, is that he hasn't enjoyed success at the international level like he has at the club level with Barcelona, but all can be forgiven if he guides this talented Argentina team to the promised land for the first time since 1986.
John Obi Mikel, M, Nigeria – The Chelsea midfielder is finally on the world's biggest stage after missing out in 2010 because of injury. At 27 years old his numbers fell off a bit for Chelsea last season – his 11 starts were his fewest since 2006-07 – but he's still integral to Nigeria's success, evidenced by a career-high 13 appearances in 2013.
NEXT BIG THING...
Plenty of attention will fall on Bosnia-Herzegovina's vaunted offensive attack, but there's also something to be said for 20-year-old left back Sead Kolasinac. A product of the German youth system before he switched allegiances to play for Bosnia, Kolasinac started 21 games for Schalke in the Bundesliga last season and could be on the verge of something big if can help his country move on.
Is it possible that Iran could throw a wrench into the works in this group? Of course. They're led by Carlos Queiroz, who led Portugal to the knockout round in 2010 but took some heavy criticism for being too conservative in the process. If Iran can somehow withstand the relentess attack of the other teams in the group – and you can believe that Queiroz is out to rehabilitate his image anyway he can – the plot thickens incredibly.
The relationship is over now, but there was a time when Agüero was married to Giannina Maradona, the youngest daughter of Diego Maradona. Consequently, Agüero's son Benjamin – who is now five years old – has some of the best soccer-player genes on the planet.
SIX DEGREES OF MLS
Vancouver Whitecaps and San Jose Earthquakes fans will be rooting hard for defender Steven Beitashour (right), who joined up with Iran last year and will make his World Cup debut. A solid MLS defender since he was taken out of San Diego State in 2010, Beitashour's story is one of the most interesting for MLS fans in Brazil.
Argentina should stroll through this one without breaking a sweat, the first step onto bigger and better things in the knockout rounds. The runner-up finish goes to upstart Bosnia-Herzegovina, who simply have too much firepower to be denied on the world's stage.