The FIFA World Cup will see Group F’s inaugural game on June 15, as Argentina faces Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to the majority of the group’s previews, this first game sees the two teams that will advance out of group play. However there remains an air of mystery surrounding the Bosnian squad, who are first-time qualifiers for the World Cup this year. Though they possess individual talent up top, there is room to question just how they will perform on the World Cup stage. For that reason, the fate of Group F may not be set in stone just yet.
Argentina won the World Cup on home soil in 1978 and then again in Mexico in 1986, the year that Diego Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal in the quarterfinals against England. This year, the squad has a similar caliber of firepower up top in the form of Lionel Messi. Messi was the Champions League top scorer from 2009-2012, however, the FC Barcelona star can only claim 1 goal scored over a total of 8 World Cup appearances. Often on the receiving end of criticism regarding his professional-international goal differential, Messi stated that Argentina is aiming to win the World Cup this year. Ranked 5th, the highly touted “three-pronged attack” comprised of Gonzalo Higuaín, Sergio Aguero, and Messi, is expected to contribute to the lethal nature of the squad’s offense. The team is set to begin group play against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday, a team they beat 2-0 during an international friendly back in November 2013.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are making their World Cup debut this year, and have been referred to as the “dark horse” in the tournament. The team performed well in their UEFA World Cup qualifiers, as Edin Džeko of Manchester City snagged 10 goals. Vedad Ibišević (VfB Stuttgart) also performed well, netting a total of 8 goals for the team. Bosnia was one of two countries in the UEFA World Cup qualifiers to have two players on the top scorers list. The other country was Argentina (Lionel Messi, 10 goals, and Gonzalo Higuaín, 9 goals). The “dark horse” status of the team can be partly attributed to the goalkeeping of Asmir Begović. Currently signed with Premier League’s Stoke City, Begović is one of Carlo Acelotti’s prime desires for Real Madrid next season. Begović helped to ensure Bosnia’s 1-0 victory over Mexico last week. The ultimate test for the team, who plan on making it to the Round of 16, will be its first match against Argentina.
Iran will make its 4th FIFA World Cup appearance this year. Back in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the squad did not make it out of group play as it faced the likes of Portugal and Mexico. Iran recently faced Trinidad and Tobago in a warm up friendly and secured a 2-0 victory that was warmly received after the team’s two draws against Montenegro and Austria. Though the 43rd-ranked team has been largely overlooked insofar as making it out of group play goes, their winning match against Trinidad and Tobago showed signs of promise for the Iranian offense. Reza Ghoochannejhad, of The Championship’s Charlton Athletic, was able to establish himself on the pitch by securing one of the team’s two goals against Trinidad and Tobago. Ehsan Haji Safi (Sepahan), playing defense, was also able to put the ball in the net for the Iranians. The team has an experienced midfield in Javan Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), and Masoud Shojaei (US Las Palmas). The team is set to play Nigeria on Monday, in what coach Carlos Quieroz has dubbed their “final” equivalent.
Nigeria has qualified for five of the last six World Cups, missing out on the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The Nigerian squad, though ranked 44th, employs a defensive-counter strategy that should prove to be interesting up against the likes of some of the lesser-developed defensive teams in Group F. Nigeria’s most recent international friendly against the U.S. resulted in a 2-1 defeat for the Super Eagles, though Victor Moses successfully converted a penalty kick in the 85th minute. Moses, who currently plays for Chelsea (on loan from Liverpool), has built a reputation for himself as being a defender’s nightmare. Known for his pace and agility on the ball, Moses and fellow playmaker John Obi Mikel (Chelsea) will dictate the pace of the Nigerian game. Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahçe) has been referred to as the Super Eagle’s secret weapon, and in conjuction with Mikel and Emenike, stands to capitalize on counter attacks during group play.
Argentina and Bosnia are Group F’s favored to make it out of group stages, however there might be room for Bosnia to be upset if they buckle under the pressure of their first World Cup appearance. Considered the “dark horse,” Bosnia has the capacity to dominate, but in light of its rookie status on the FIFA World Cup stage, the second slot may be up for grabs. If Bosnia does not convert in group play, it may come down to a battle between Nigeria’s pace up top and Iran’s strength in the midfield.
Commentary by Courtney Anderson