By RYAN TOLMICH
After five straight tournaments without making a World Cup finals appearance, Argentines are beginning to believe that this year could be their long-awaited return to glory.
With Lionel Messi entering his prime, many Argentines are hoping that the 2014 World Cup is where Messi cements his claim as one of the greatest soccer players to ever live, and to deliver a World Cup to Argentina in their hated rival nation of Brazil.
Joining Messi in Argentina’s quest for success are an A-list of attacking options, including Ezequiel Lavezzi, Angel Di Maria, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain. Argentina boast arguably the best attack in the sport, as La Albiceleste were even confident enough to leave 20-goal-scorer Carlos Tevez at home.
Along with the Albiceleste in Group F are a pair of teams with expectations of qualifying for the tournaments knockout round, as both Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina have ambitions of a deep run. Both sides expect to play more than the three group stage games on the schedule, making their June 21 clash all the more interesting.
Rounding out the group are projected bottom dwellers Iran, who qualified for the tournament by topping Group A in AFC qualifying. Iran have the odds stacked against them, but there are few more things more dangerous than a team with absolutely nothing to lose.
Here’s a closer look at Group F:
6/15 – Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina; 6/16 – Iran vs. Nigeria; 6/21 – Argentina vs. Iran; 6/21 – Nigeria vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina; 6/25- Nigeria vs. Argentina; 6/25 – Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Iran.
TOP PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Fernando Gago, Angel Di Maria
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Emmanuel Emenike, Shola Ameobi
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Edin Dzeko, Asmir Begovic, Miralem Pjanic, Vedad Ibisevic
Iran: Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Steven Beitashour
YOUNG PLAYERS TO WATCH
Argentina: Marcos Rojo
Nigeria: Ahmed Musa
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Muhamed Bešić
Iran: Bakhtiar Rahmani
SBI’s PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Argentina. Very few teams will be able to cope with Argentina’s attack. Messi and co. should tear through this group with ease.
2. Nigeria. With talent all over the field and Enyeama in goal, Nigeria should be able to power through to the knockout round.
3. Bosnia-Herzegovina. Talented attack, but lackluster defense will cost them.
4. Iran. Severely overmatched by the trio listed above
When it comes down to it, very few defenses on this planet can contain the endless tide of Argentina attacks. Messi, Di Maria, Lavezzi and the rest of the Argentinian goal-scorers should have a field day against a group that lacks truly elite defenses. Where it gets interesting is the battle for second, as both Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina have what it takes to get a result on any given day. At the end of the day, defense wins out, as Nigeria holds a slight edge in the protection of their net. As for Iran, enjoy the Brazilian beaches and pray you catch one of you competitors on an off day.
How do you see Group F shaking out? Can anyone stop Argentina’s attack? Who do you see from Nigeria or Bosnia-Herzegovina emerging as the group’s second-place finisher?
Share your thoughts below.