Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina will fight it out for second place in Group F as the Lionel Messi-led Argentina will be too strong.
THIS is an easy group for South American giants Argentina. La Albiceleste will have the upperhand in this group as they have many world class players in their squad.
In the last two World Cups, Argentina were knocked out at quarter-final stage and this time, they will be hoping to better that. The iconic Lionel Messi will want to win the big one to cement himself as one of the legends of the game.
Argentina looks set to finish first but what about the others? Here is my take on group F.
Captained by Barcelona’s forward Lionel Messi, Argentina looks set to win this group easily. Alejandro Sabella will want to win all the games and they have the ammunition to do so. According to Sabella, the team is built around Messi and with him there, there will be goals! Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and Napoli’s Gonzalo Higuain are two of the most in-form strikers in world football and Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria will be the man tasked to provide the goods for the strikers.
With all of them there, you’ve got flair, pace and most importantly goals. However, they look weak defensively. They don’t possess the swagger of the Italians and the determination of the English lads. Gone are the days of Roberto Ayala, Javier Zanetti and Juan Pablo Sorin who formed a strong Argentina backline in the late 90s. Sabella will rely on defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano to protect the backline. Benfica’s Ezequiel Garay and Napoli’s Federico Fernandez looks set to become the first choice centre-back partnership while Pablo Zabaleta and Nicolas Otamendi will be the wing-backs.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
They used to play in Pestabola Merdeka and now they’re on the big stage. Led by Safet Susic, Bosnia & Herzogovina will be no pushovers in this group. They have talented players in their squad and I’m expecting them to go all out for the second spot. Their star player will undoubtedly be Manchester City’S Edin Dzeko and he will be the man to lead the attack. He will be partnered with VfB Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic.
Ibisevic scored the winning goal against Lithuania in the qualifying group stages to send them to Brazil and he will also play a key role for the Bosnians. Bayer Leverkusen’s Emir Spahic will be the captain and he will be partnered with Ermin Bicakcic. Miralem Pjanic who is having a great season with AS Roma will be the string puller for the Bosnians and expect him to provide the ammunition for Dzeko and Ibisevic. All of them are playing in the European league but lack of international exposure might affect their progress in the world cup. However, with their tactical discipline and determination to succeed, the Zmajevi (Dragons) might spring a surprise!
Under Carlos Quieroz, Iran has improved a lot. They were top in their group and even beat Asian heavyweights South Korea during the qualifiers. They looked disciplined and showed why they’re one of the best teams in Asia. The likes of Ali Karimi, Mehdi Mahdavikia and Ali Daei may be out of the scene but players like Ashkan Dejageh, Masoud Shojaei and veteran midfielder Javed Nekounam have taken the responsibility pretty well.
Nekounam who played in the Spanish League for many years will be the key man in midfield and the 33-year-old is known for his consistency and hard work. Shojaei plays for Las Palmas in the Segunda Division and he will be providing ammunition together with Fulham’s Ashkan Dejageh for the strikers. All these players are big in Iran but when it comes to the world, they’re not well known. The element of surprise is there but facing the likes of Messi, Dzeko and John Obi Mikel can be very intimidating. They will surely rely on Queiroz’s magic to bring them to the next round but they will have to be at their best to beat Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina.
They won the African Nations Cup last year and should to be buoyed by that success. Many will be expecting them to finish second behind Argentina but Stephen Keshi knows it’s not going to be easy. The current Nigeria group looks strong and most of their players play regular football in Europe. FC Lille’s Vincent Enyeama will lead this side and I’m looking forward to his performances this time. In 2010, he was one of the best African keepers during the tournament and he single-handedly denied Messi when Nigeria lost to Argentina 1-0 in the group stages of that tournament.
Joseph Yobo is an experienced centre-back and I’m sure he will be an inspirational figure for the younger players in Brazil. John Obi Mikel will protect the backline while Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa will be the wingers for Nigeria. Super Eagles are known for their hardwork and skills but when they lose their discipline, they can become fowls! Keshi has to remind his players that shouldn't happen if they want to do well in Brazil.
First place is surely Argentina’s to lose. They are the hot favourites and with Messi hellbent on impressing, teams will find it hard to beat them. It’s hard to predict who will finish second place. Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina have what it takes to be second but based on experience, I have to say Nigeria will nick the second spot and go to the next round. This will be one interesting group to watch because of the second place competition!
The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.