Alex McInnes brings another World Cup preview with his verdict on Group F.
’La Albiceleste’ had little trouble in qualifying from the CONMEBOL section, losing just two out of sixteen qualification games. Appearing at a World Cup Finals is pretty much a given for Argentina and this summer in Brazil will be their 14th appearance, having won the competition twice, first on home soil in 1978 and secondly in Mexico in 1986, thanks mainly to the mercurial Diego Maradona. Having had such a rich World Cup history you would have expected the Argentines to have done a bit better in recent years seeing as they last made a final in 1990. Currently managed by ex-Sheffield United and Leeds United midfielder Alejandro Sabella and captained by the impish Barcelona legend Lionel Messi, Argentina are my pick to win this tournament. They have everything in place to make a real push towards the final and I can’t see many teams getting in the way of that but I may well be completely wrong. ‘La Albiceleste’ have by far the strongest group of forward players in the world right now but they also have solidity in all areas. The key guys for Argentina will be Sergio Romero in goal, Benfica’s and possibly soon to be Bayern München centre back Ezequiel Garay, Premier League winner Martin Demichelis, Ángel di María, Javier Mascherano, and now the forwards, Gonzalo Higuaín, Lionel Messi, Sergio Agüero, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Internazionale’s Rodrigo Palacio. I expect a very exciting tournament from this team.
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
This will be Bosnia’s first ever appearance at a major finals of any competition. It can be contested that they competed as a part of the old Yugoslavia but as their own nation, this is their maiden voyage in to elite international football. Known fondly to Bosnians as‘Zmajevi’ or Dragons to you and me, they surprised a lot of people by winning their UEFA qualification group ahead of Greece. In all honesty they don’t have the best of squads in terms of strength in depth but they do have some very technically gifted players. Just being at this World Cup is a success for the Bosnians but I believe that if they can get a draw and a win against Nigeria and Iran then they may well progress but it will be tough. The main guys for Bosnia & Herzegovina are Stoke City’s Asmir Begović in goal, Emir Spahić (captain), Sejad Salihović of Hoffenheim, Senad Lulić of S.S. Lazio, Zvjezdan Misimović, AS Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanić, and upfront the main threats of Vedad Ibišević and two time Premier League champion Edin Džeko.
I’ll be honest, Iranian football is something of an unknown entity to me. I had no idea until I researched the team that this will be their fourth World Cup appearance, the others being in 1978, 1998 and lastly in 2006 in Germany. Currently managed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s old right hand man at Manchester United, Carlos Queiroz, ‘Ŝirāne Irān’, the Iranian Lions, qualified by finishing top of their AFC Fourth Round Group A two points above South Korea who they created quite a heated rivalry with thanks in part to boss Carlos Queiroz stoking the fire. The majority of the Iranian squad are based in their home country but they have some players with European football experience, keep your eye out for captain Javad Nekounam, ex-Fulham and Bolton midfielder Andranik Teymourian, Ashkan Dejagah and Dutch-Iranian striker now at Charlton Athletic, Reza Ghoochannejhad. I really don’t know enough about the Iranians to give much of a prediction but I’m sure just getting out of the group would be an utter success for them.
The Super Eagles progressed to the World Cup Finals after an aggregate 4-1 over Ethiopia in the CAF Thrid Round. Nigeria are a team that I always look forward to watching at tournaments and I think that’s mainly due to my love for Jay-Jay Okocha back in the day. This will be Nigeria’s fifth ever appearance at a finals, having twice won their groups and progressed to the round of 16 in 1994 and 1998 then finishing bottom of their groups in 2002 and 2010, it shows the truly unpredictable nature of the Nigerians and that’s something I always relish in a team. Managed by captain of the 1994 Africa Cup of Nations, Stephen Keshi, they have had relative progress of late, finally winning the AFCON in 2013 after a 19 year drought. Nigeria have every chance of progression out of the group and I would say 2nd place is up for grabs for any of Nigeria, Iran or Bosnia & Herzegovina so they should really relish the prospect. There are quite a few familiar names in the Super Eagles squad for Brazil 2014; penalty taking goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, ex-Everton stalwart and Nigeria captain Joseph Yobo, Celtic’s Efe Ambrose, John Obi Mikel who plays a much more creative role than he does at his club Chelsea, up and coming Lazio midfielder Ogenyi Onazi, Victor Moses, Peter Odemwingie and Newcastle United cult hero Shola Ameobi. Keep an eye on Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike.