As we approach the start of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 12, the Sports Unbiased Crew will be releasing guides to help make better sense of what you watch as the world’s best soccer players converge on Brazil this summer. Check in regularly as we preview the eight groups, 32 teams, and key players that will play an integral role in determining the next world champion.
Group F may not be the flashiest group in the 2014 World Cup, but it is an interesting one nonetheless. All eyes will be on Argentina — the clear-cut favorite in the group, not to mention one of the favorites to win the tournament overall. There are very few countries in this tournament that can match La Albiceleste in terms of talent, and even fewer can boast of having a player with the skills of Lionel Messi (perhaps only Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo).
The real battle in Group F should be for the second place between Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nigeria have shown that they are once again one of the top nations in their continent the past two years under manager Stephen Keshi. Last year, Keshi became the first Nigerian coach to lead the Super Eagles to the African Cup of Nations. There is strength throughout the squad, and their physical (if not erratic) style of play should make things difficult for their opponents. Bosnia-Herzegovina are one of those teams capable of a deep run in the tournament. Their defense is not excellent, but they should be one of the better attacking sides. Their 30 goals scored during World Cup qualifying were the fourth highest in Europe, with 18 of those coming from their strike duo of Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic.
Let’s now look quickly at each of the six matches that will determine the group standings and predict how the group will shake out. (All times Eastern.)
Argentina v. Bosnia-Herzegovina/Rio de Janiero (June 15/6:00pm)
This could be one of the more entertaining group matches in the entire tournament. Both teams love attacking football and defensive vulnerabilities on both sides mean that there should be lots of goals scored. Argentina often employ a 4-3-3 formation, which allows Messi to play just behind the two strikers where he is most dangerous. There are a couple factors which could come into play, both of which should favor the South Americans. One is the conditions, namely the heat and the humidity which should be trouble the Europeans. It will also be the World Cup debut for Bosnia-Herzegovina so nerves could into play.
PREDICTION: 4-2 Argentina
Iran v. Nigeria/Curitiba (June 16/3:00pm)
Iran are comprised of mostly home-based players and many are expecting them to finish dead last in the group. They may lack the quality of the other countries, but manager Carlos Queiroz (former Manchester United assistant manager) has them well organized and they are very disciplined in what they do. Nigeria can be very haphazard, so one may not know what to expect from the Super Eagles. It would not be a complete shock should the Iranians emerge from this match with a point. Unfortunately, the physical style of the Nigerians should be enough to win this one.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Nigeria
Argentina v. Iran/Belo Horizonte (June 21/12:00pm)
A classic case of David versus Goliath in this one. To say that the disparity in talent between these two is enormous, well… that is frankly an understatement. Short of kidnapping Messi and company, there is no conceivable way in which one can envision Iran pulling off an upset (and a draw here would be considered an upset). Argentina will more likely be padding up their goal differential in this match.
PREDICTION: 5-0 Argentina
Nigeria v. Bosnia-Herzegovina/Cuiaba (June 21/6:00pm)
This could effectively determine which side advances from the group with Argentina, as Bosnia-Herzegovina and their high-powered offense takes on the rock-hard defense of Nigeria. For Nigeria, it all comes down to defensive discipline. They must avoid the silly fouls (and bookings) against Bosnia-Herzegovina’s skilled offensive players. For Bosnia-Herzegovina, one has to wonder how aggressive they will be offensively given the importance of the match and their lack of depth on defense. Another factor could be the officiating. If the Nigerians are allowed to be physical, it could tilt the match in their favor.
PREDICTION: 1-1 Draw
Nigeria v. Argentina/Porto Alegre (June 25/12:00pm)
This is where the draw against Bosnia-Herzegovina could end up hurting Nigeria, because whereas the European nation will finish their round of group matches against Iran, they have to deal with Argentina. Nigeria has never beaten Argentina in three previous World Cup meetings, but the Super Eagles have played La Albiceleste tough in every match, losing by a single goal. This match should be no different. Nigeria will take Argentina out of their comfort zones throughout the match with their physical brand of football, but expect the South Americans to emerge with a another hard-fought victory.
PREDICTION: 1-0 Argentina
Bosnia-Herzegovina v. Iran/Salvador (June 25/12:00pm)
With little concern about Iran hurting them on defense, expect Bosnia-Herzegovina to come out looking to score as many goals as possible. Again, it is hard to ignore the lack of high-end talent on Iran compared to their opponents. They will make it difficult at times, particularly in the midfield, but in the end one has to go with the more talented side. Iran may well exit the World Cup with zero points, but they will atone well for themselves given their lack of talent.
PREDICTION: 3-0 Bosnia-Herzegovina