Sunday, June 8, 2014

2014 World Cup Preview: Group F

Group F features an established team with one of the best players on the planet, an extremely talented up-and-coming outfit and a team that has found glory at the confederation level and is looking to make its mark internationally. Argentina should be the class of the group, but Bosnia-Herzegovina will be competing in their first World Cup in national history while Nigeria seeks to make a name for themselves. These three teams are all offensively talented and defensively suspect, which should lead to a great slate of games. Iran is also in the group and they are a candidate for this year's "team that goes scoreless."

I've teamed up with Pat (follow him on Twitter @The_Incline) to preview the 32 teams in the tournament.

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World Cup Appearances: 16
Best Result: Champions (1978, 1986)
How they Qualified: Won CONMEBOL Qualification Group
FIFA Ranking: 7

Argentina boasts the best player in the world in Lionel Messi and is on the short list of favorites to emerge victorious from the World Cup. They have a relatively easy draw and should easily advance from this group. They have a level of familiarity with Nigeria, who they defeated in the group stage of the 2002 and 2010 World Cups and in a friendly in 2011. Last November they also defeated Bosnia and Hrezegovina 2-0 in a friendly. Even though this side is brimming with talent, they have not had as much success on the international level as one would expect, exiting both the 2010 World Cup and 2011 Copa America tournaments in the Quarterfinals.  Messi will have the weight of his country on his back after he failed to score a goal at the 2010 World Cup. He finished second (behind only Luis Suarez) with 10 goals in CONMEBOL Qualification. Teammate Gonzalo Higuain finished third in the group with 9 goals, giving Argentina multiple scoring options that they lacked in the past. The Argentinians were the highest scoring side in CONMEBOL qualification and could continue to offensively flourish. A quarterfinal match with Portugal is not out of the question, which would pit Messi against arch-nemesis Christiano Ronaldo.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Lionel Messi: What more can be said about Messi? Messi is arguably the greatest player of his generation and possibly the greatest we’ll ever see in our lifetime. Check out these numbers at Barcelona: 73, 60, 41. Those are Messi’s goal totals the last three season in La Liga. However, the legend has yet to deliver for his country. All eyes will be on #10 in Brazil. 
  • Angel di Maria: Messi’s rival at Real Madrid had a fantastic season for his club. After being shuffled around from forward to midfield by new manager Carlo Ancelotti. Di Maria scored 11 goals this season and contributed to a Champions League title for the Madridistas.

World Cup Appearances: 1
Best Result: This is the first World Cup apperance for Bosnia and Herzegovina
How they Qualified: Won UEFA Qualification Group
FIFA Ranking: 25

Bosnia and Hrezegovina will appear in their first World Cup after besting Greece to top their qualification group. Both Greece and Bosnia and Herzegovina finished the group stage with 25 points, but Bosnia's goal differential (+24 to +8) put them first in the table and advanced them to Brazil. In qualification, Bosnia and Herzegovina was offensively dominant, scoring 30 goals while surrendering only 6. Edin Dzeko finished second in scoring in the UEFA qualifiers with 10 goals while Vedad Ibisevic added 8 more. Bosnia and Herzegovina has a very good chance to progress in this tournament if they can secure results against Iran and Nigeria - neither of which boasts the scoring punch of the Zmajevi. This is a young team that is somewhat inexperienced on the international stage (this will be their first major international tournament) but they certainly have the offensive ability to make an impression.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Edin Dzeko: The striker has been at Manchester City since 2010, scoring 46 league goals. Dzeko will be the attacking threat for a squad making their first World Cup appearance. Bosnia-Herzegovina are expected to emerge from the group, but if they are to advance beyond the round of 16, expect a few timely goals from the poacher, Edin Dzeko.
  • Miralem Pjanić. The 24-year-old Roma midfielder is versatile and serves as the team’s primary midfield cog, who can also chip in with an occasional goal. Roma finished second in Serie A and will play in the Champions League next season. Pjanić is one of its key players going forward. Pjanić is a relatively unknown name, but with high upside. A good tournament could return a big paycheck for his services at a larger club in Europe.

World Cup Appearances: 5
Best Result: Round of 16 (1994, 1998)
How they Qualified: Defeated Ethiopia in CAF Playoff
FIFA Ranking: 44

Nigeria has twice progressed beyond the Group Stage at the World Cup and will have an opportunity to do so again this year if they are able to secure a result against Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Super Eagles aren't the most offensively overwhelming team in the tournament, but striker Emmanuel Emenike has a penchant for timely goals - scoring twice in the play-off against Ethiopia and 4 times in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (earning him the Tournament Top Scorer). This is a Nigerian side with experience at the international level after winning the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations and competing in the 2013 Confederations Cup where they were eliminated in the Group Stage. Nigeria enters the World Cup on a hot streak after having their national soccer program suspended for two years following their dismal performance at the 2010 World Cup. Nigeria plays a defensive game and will look to score off the counter-attack, but this is a young team that will need to maintain their structure in order to continue their success.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Victor Moses: No stranger to the Barclays Premier League, Moses has already played for Crystal Palace, Wigan, Chelsea, and was loaned out to Liverpool this season. Moses was bumped down the selection list under Jose Mourinho. However, the winger still presents a difficult mark for defenders. His performance will likely dictate Nigeria’s success. 
  • Peter Odemwingie: The midfielder will dictate the Nigerian attack. He is also no stranger to BPL followers. He has played with West Brom, Cardiff, and Stoke City. Known as a bit of head case and malcontent, Odemwingie was dropped from the squad during the last African Cup of Nations. However, he has been added to the squad and his performance and attitude will be worth watching in Brazil. 

World Cup Appearances: 4
Best Result: First Round (1978, 1998, 2006)
How they Qualified: Won AFC Qualification Group
FIFA Ranking: 37

Iran will be appearing in their fourth World Cup and they have yet to progress past the group stage. Iran is not an offensively strong side and was the lowest scoring team to advance to the World Cup from the AFC. That said, based on the FIFA World Rankings they are the best team from the Asian Confederation and their stout defensive style could keep them in many games in this tournament - as we saw with New Zealand who rode a collapsing defense to 3 draws in 2010. Iran was served with a difficult draw for their defensive style of play as Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina are two of the best attacking teams in the tournament. Their lack of goal-scoring prowess has all the makings of an early exit from this tournament and it would be a surprise if they were able to advance to the knockout stage.

Pat's Players to Watch
  • Ashkan Dejagah: More Premier League favoritism, but Dejagah was one of the few bright spots down the final run of games for relegated Fulham. The Iranian right midfielder couldn’t keep the Cottagers in the Premier League on his heroics alone. His chances of propelling Iran out of the group stage are even less likely.
  • Javad Nekounam: The Iranian captain could pass 140 international caps at the World Cup, making him one of the most experienced players in Brazil. That’s about all I have. Most of Iran’s players are based in their domestically. Unfortunately, the Iranian pro league is not available on Time Warner.

Ian's PredictionPat's Prediction

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