World Cup Group F Preview
It’s not just a lazy prediction that Brazil’s old enemy Argentina will offer the hosts the biggest threat in terms of lifting the World Cup. Yes, no European team has lifted the trophy on South American soil, so there’s not much alternative to the two South American super powers, but also no team boasts such a forward line-up as the Argentines do. Oh, and one of those forwards is called Lionel Messi. The rest should be playing for the runners-up spot in this group.
With ‘Los Cuatro Fantasticos’ the Argentinians surely have the most feared frontline at the tournament. Playing 4-3-3, Di Maria is likely to drop back into the deeper midfield role he has adopted so well to at Madrid this season, with his 17 assists the best return from any of the top five European leagues. This leaves a frontline of Gonzalo Higuian, Sergio Aguero and of course Lionel Messi. PSG’s Ezequiel Lavezzi sits and watches from the bench. Quite frightening on paper, Argentina also lit up during qualifying, having been the only side to beat Colombia and do the double over Chile.
Much is said about Argentina lacking balance to support their attacking flair but they are still relatively strong at the back. Ezequiel Garay and Marcos Rojo have been two of the best defenders in Portugal this season, with the latter likely to occupy the left back position for his national side. Zabaleta has emerged as one of the most consistent defenders in the Premier League for the last few seasons whilst Fernandez played 26 times for Napoli in 2013/14.
In front of them, Mascherano will break play up although he is perhaps their only recognised ball-winning midfielder. Argentina are expected to advance comfortably from the group and are major favourites alongside Brazil for the tournament. Manager Angelo Sabella has a reputation for becoming more compact with a five-man defence against better opponents and though it may seem slightly negative, still expect goals from the forward players. Messi, rejuvenated with the captain’s armband, has a better chance than any to prove his doubters on the international stage and it would only be a surprise to the ignorant if he lit up Brazil 2014 and led them all the way to the Final.
Bosnia are the only Word Cup debutants this summer, and they could be one of the surprise packages in Brazil. Manager Safet Susic has promised not to abandon his attacking 4-4-2 diamond for the tournament and his ‘all or nothing’ approach could well earn him a lot of fans as the tournament progresses.
Dzeko and Ibisevic up front offer their attacking firepower. They are both strong in the air and capable of scoring goals as proven this season for both club and country. Ibisevic, who escaped a war in his homeland as a child, has returned 15 goals in 32 games for Stuttgart this season whilst his strike partner scored 16 goals in the Premier League alone as Manchester City went on to pick up the title. Behind them are experienced veteran Zvjezdan Misimovic and exciting no.10 Miralem Pjanic of Roma. Captain Emir Spahic plays centre half, behind him is the highly rated Asmir Begovic with the gloves.
Things bode well for Bosnia going into the tournament. Their big players are on form and the group they face could have been a lot trickier. The only concern for them is that they won’t have a plan B against the likes of Nigeria and Iran, the latter especially expected to park the bus and not be broken down. Teams know how Bosnia are likely to set up with their 4-4-2 and that isn’t too flexible considering manager Safet Susic will want his two big strikers on the pitch for as long as possible.
Iran kept 10 clean sheets during World Cup qualification, more than any other side in the tournament. You’d certainly be wrong to suggest Carlos Quieroz has brought with him the attacking philosophies from his time at Manchester United and Real Madrid. Instead, he has made this Iranian side difficult to break down. The outspoken Portugese manager has lambasted all areas of Iran’s Football Federation going into the tournament, addressing everything from their lack of ambition to their inability to provide an acceptable kit.
Despite this, Quieroz does appear to have supreme backing from their passionate fans, and will want to bring success by qualifying from the group before he steps down as the national team boss.
Iran might not be a great watch this summer, but they could prove to be very effective. 26-year-old Daniel Davari is highly rated in Iran, and one of only a handful of players playing outside the country having recently secured a move to Grasshoppers after relegation from the Bundesliga with Eintracht Braunschweig last season.
Iran are probably strongest in midfield however, with former Bolton midfielder Andranik Teymourian and captain Javad Nekounam, who made 175 appearances for Osasuna between 2006-2012. In front of them is perhaps the country’s most famous current export, Ashkan Dejagah who plies his tried for Fulham still and scored one of the goals of the season this year in the Premier League. He, alongside Charlton striker Reza Ghoochannejhad will attempt to provide the firepower to go alongside their stubbornness and defensive resolve.
Nigeria boss Steve Keshi has consistently surprised everyone with his selection of squads since taking over in 2011. The best example being relative unknown Michel Babatunde of Volyn Lutsk in Ukraine. Babatunde only made 9.8% of Nigerian fans’ provisional 30 man squad on a Nigerian Squad Selector App used by thousands before the tournament, but he has made his way into Keshi’s final 23 man squad after only a few substitute appearances for his country. To the dismay of the Nigerians, fan favourite Ejike Uzoenyi was one of those who was sacrificed to accommodate him, along with former Inter Milan and West Ham forward Victor Obinna.
Also out are Premier League players Victor Anichebe and Sone Aluko, along with Joel Obi and Nnamdi Oduamadi who represent parent clubs Inter and AC Milan respectively.
Despite this, Keshi has achieved success already with Nigeria, winning the African Cup of Nations last year. They beat the Ivory Coast and Mali in the knockouts before defeating Burkina Faso in the final.
His preferred 4-3-3 formation has ball winning midfielders with John Obi Mikel and Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi along with firepower up front with Emineke, Musa and Victor Moses all at top clubs in Europe. Captain Vincent Enyeama is also an experienced presence in goal with Celtic’s Efe Ambrose patrolling the back four in front of him.
If the Nigerians can beat Iran and contain Bosnia’s attacking threat they will get chances to score goals and progress through the group. They are the most famous and successful African nation at World Cup finals and will want to prove their worth again.
Predicted Group Top scorer
Whilst most people will look to one of the Argentinian forwards to top the chart in Group F, there will be a certain Edin Dzeko quietly confident he can do the same. There may well become a situation where the South Americans win their opening two games and have an ability to rest players and change things up for their final group game against Nigeria. Bosnia however are unlikely to be in this position, but with Susic’s attacking tactics along with their reliance on the 6’3 Manchester City target man, he is certainly worth a punt on finishing top of the scoring charts in this group.
Likely To Progress
Argentina are second favourites for the competition so it is almost a certainty they will progress from Group F without any major hiccups. Second place then becomes a dogfight with Bosnia and Nigeria the most likely to take it. Nigeria have some momentum following their African Cup of Nations win, but Bosnia’s impressive qualification form means they are a serious contender.
The heat could play a part, with Nigeria more likely to be used to the sweltering conditions and should they both beat Iran, the encounter between these two on 21st June is likely to be a tasty affair.
If Villa fans are to support one team in Group F it they should look no further than Iran, who have four Esteghlal players in their 23 man squad. Esteghlal of course being where ex-Villan J Lloyd Samuel’s currently plays his football having previously played 169 times for Villa during a nine-year spell at the club.
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