World Cup Profiles - Group F

Group F

On the six previous occasions the World Cup has been hosted in South America, a country from that continent has eventually come out on top. That includes one of Argentina’s two previous World Cup wins, on home soil in 1978. Their other one was Mexico 86. Past history, therefore, appears to point to a successful summer for La Albiceleste.
A glance at their squad merely confirms the suspicion that they are amongst the frontrunners for world soccer’s biggest prize this summer. Mixing the tenacity of Javier Mascherano and Pablo Zabaleta with the pace of Angel Di Maria and the goals of Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, they appear to have it all. And we haven’t even mentioned the phenomenon that is Lionel Messi.
Yet they are not without their weaknesses, with much debate back home centring on who should start between the sticks. Sergio Romero is in pole position, but he has not nailed down a regular spot at Monaco, while there is a similar lack of quality in defence.
For coach Alejandro Sabella however, it has often simply been a case of getting the best out of his magician Messi. They are so blessed with attacking riches that Carlos Tevez has not featured for his country since 2011, yet Messi remains both the puzzle and the key.
If Sabella can fully unleash Messi this summer then they will take some stopping.

How they qualified 
After a 4-1 win against Chile to begin their World Cup qualifying campaign, Argentina then stumbled against Venezuela and drew 1-1 at home to Bolivia, which raised doubts as to whether coach Alejandro Sabella, who took over after Copa America 2011, was up to the task. La Albiceleste, however, got back on track with a 2-1 win over Colombia in Barranquilla, which began Argentina's 14-match unbeaten run through the remainder of qualifying, where they finished atop the South American table. Argentina tallied 35 goals while only surrendering 15 on the way to winning the preliminary competition for the third time. The rest of South America could only chase Argentina throughout the final qualifying fixtures.

World Cup history
Argentina have contested four World Cup finals in all, the first of them at the inaugural tournament, Uruguay 1930, when they went down 4-2 to the host nation. Respective contributions from Mario Kempes and Diego Maradona inspired them to the biggest prize in football on home soil in 1978 and again at Mexico 1986, while their last showpiece appearance came at Italy 1990, when they were denied by an Andreas Brehme penalty. Since then they have been unable to progress beyond the quarter-finals.

Goalkeepers: Mariano Andujar (Catania), Sergio Romero (Monaco), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors)
Defenders: Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Jose Basanta (Monterrey), Nicolas Otamendi (Atletico Mineiro), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City)
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (FC Barcelona), Jose Sosa (Atletico Madrid), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Ricky Alvarez (Inter Milan), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ever Banega (Newell’s Old Boys), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Enzo Perez (Benfica)
Forward: Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Gonzalo Higuaín (Napoli), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint-Germain)

The key players
With the landmark achievement of claiming four consecutive FIFA Ballon d'Ors (2009-2012), Lionel Messi is the undisputed leader of the Argentina national team and a multiple-trophy winner with Barcelona. Breaking all kind of goal-records, La Pulga is now looking to achieve greatness with his country after failing, somewhat surprisingly, to find the back of the net at South Africa 2010. Supporting him will be an all-star cast featuring Sergio Aguero, Javier Mascherano and Angel Di Maria, all of them on top of their game with some of Europe’s leading clubs.

The Coach: Alejandro Sabella
Having only previously managed at Estudiantes, Sabella took charge of his national side following the 2011 Copa America, and named Messi captain almost immediately. He has focused on forming a side that will allow his skipper to flourish and replicate his stunning club form on the international stage, a task that he increasingly looks close to succeeding in.
A familiar trait of his reign up to now has been a fierce loyalty to a select band of players, with top-class former internationals such as Javier Pastore, Esteban Cambiasso and Carlos Tevez having all been left out in favour of Sabella’s entrusted lieutenants.

Prediction: Runners-up
Much has been made of the favourable draw Sabella’s men have been given; not only is their group not overly daunting, the Argentineans will also play the entire tournament no further south than Brasilia, whether they finish first or second in their group. This ensures them matches in a comfortable climate that will certainly suit them, which could be a critical advantage.
They look well set to top their group, and after that they are a side that nobody will want to face come the knockout stages. Germany look to be the biggest threat in Argentina’s half of the draw, but an appearance in the final on July 13 appears an achievable aim.

Quick facts
FIFA Ranking: 7th
Best World Cup Result: Winner (1978, 1986)
Best Copa America Result: Winners (1923, 1939, 1940, 1971)
Record Scorer: Gabriel Batistuta (56)
Most Capped Player: Javier Zanetti (145)
Captain: Lionel Messi

Group matches
Sunday 15th June v Bosnia-Hercegovina (Rio de Janeiro)
Saturday 21st June v Iran (Belo Horizonte)
Wednesday 25th June v Nigeria (Porto Alegre)

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Vedad Ibisevic’s goal in Lithuania sealed Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first ever appearance as an independent nation at a World Cup finals.
If Safet Susic’s players were honest, they were probably just grateful to avoid a second-place finish in the group, and a possible meeting with Portugal who eliminated them at the play-off stage for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Susic can call on a strong spine in the form of outstanding Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, captain and central defensive rock Emir Spahic, midfielder schemer Miralem Pjanic and striker Edin Dzeko.
Pjanic provides a terrific supply line to strikers Dzeko and Ibisevic who were on fire in qualifying.
Susic adopted an aggressive approach throughout qualifying and was rewarded as his side netted 30 times in 10 matches.
While Bosnia are heading to Brazil to enjoy their first ever qualification, there is also a belief in the ranks that they can do some damage in a group also containing Argentina, Nigeria and Iran.

How they qualified
Bosnia-Herzegovina had an outstanding campaign, winning eight of their ten matches, drawing and losing just once. A ruthless attack and resilient rearguard were the cornerstones of the side’s success, with the 30 goals scored representing the fourth-highest tally in European zone qualifying. Equally impressive was a defence that was breached just six times. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s notable goal difference proved crucial too, edging them past a Greece side that finished level on points, to secure direct passage to Brazil 2014 and a first appearance at a FIFA World Cup.
After starting with a string of victories combined with a goalless draw in Greece, coach Safet Susic’s team’s campaign initially went according to plan. However, a 1-0 defeat at home to Slovakia in September 2013 set up a nail-biting finale for Bosnia-Herzegovina, before they pipped Greece to the post on the final matchday.

World Cup history
No World Cup history

Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen)
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic (Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ervin Zukanovic (Gent), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros).
Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk).
Forwards: Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB)

The key players
Bosnia-Herzegovina have a core of talented players capable of changing games in an instant, ranging from the likes of Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic up front, through midfielders Miralem Pjanic and Zvjezdan Misimovic, all the way back to defensive rock Emir Spahic and goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. The majority of the squad regularly showcase their talents in Europe’s biggest leagues, giving them the experience necessary to shine on the biggest stage of them all.

The Coach: Safet Susic
Guiding Bosnia to their first ever World Cup is undoubtedly the greatest triumph of Susic’s career. Once voted the country’ best ever player, Susic lacks real coaching experience and Brazil 2014 will provide a stern test of his managerial abilities.

Prediction: Knockout Stages
Bosnia have more than enough to finish second in this group. Their qualifying group may not have been the toughest, but dropping points in just two of their 10 fixtures stands them in good stead for these finals. Argentina surely have first place sown up, but Bosnia undoubtedly have what it takes to see off Iran and African Nations Cup holders Nigeria. It will likely be between the Europeans and Africans for second place, with Susic’s men just to edge it and set up a possible second round clash with France or Ecuador.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 25th
Best World Cup Result: Never qualified
Best European Championship Result: Never qualified
Record Scorer: Edin Dzeko
Most Capped Player: Zvjezdan Misimovic
Captain: Emir Spahic

Group Matches:
Sunday, June 15, 2014 v Argentina (Rio)
Saturday, June 21, 2014 v Nigeria (Cuiaba)
Thursday, June 26, 2014 v Iran (Salvador)

African Nations Cup holders Nigeria arrive in Brazil with realistic expectations of reaching the second round of the 2014 World Cup.
Coach Stephen Keshi has built a young side which dramatically overachieved in South Africa last year, although demonstrated that they are still a work in progress with a disappointing Confederations Cup campaign.
Keshi will look to the likes of goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, midfielder Jon Obi Mikel, winger Ahmed Musa and forward Emmanuel Emenike to fire them out of a group consisting of Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran.
In March, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) were forced to deny that they will appoint a foreign assistant to coach Stephen Keshi, insisting that the man who led them to their first African Nations Cup title since 1994 had full support.
In the past, the federation have been architects of their own downfall by failing to sort out payments to players before the finals. Keshi will hope that any squad unrest can be avoided by each player knowing what they are due to be paid prior to the event kicking off on June 12.
Keshi has attempted to foster a strong team spirit within the camp, omitting players such as Mikel, who he felt did not have enough respect for his fellow countrymen. The Chelsea midfielder is now back in favour and will be desperate to impress on the biggest stage after missing the disappointing 2010 World Cup campaign through injury.
Nigeria cruised through qualifying thanks, in part, to a less than challenging draw, which saw them comfortably top their group before easing past Ethiopia in a two-legged play-off.

How they qualified
Drawn in Group F with Malawi, Kenya and Namibia, the Nigerians were always massive favourites to reach the final play-off round of qualifying, and they did not lose any matches in the group stage. They did draw three times, once against each opponent, with the most worrying result a 1-1 at home to Kenya when only a second half injury time goal by Nnamdi Oduamadi won the point. Once in the two-legged play-off, the Eagles drew the lowest-ranked team in Ethiopia and despite the improvement of the east Africans, Nigeria were seldom threatened in winning away 2-1 and at home 2-0.

World Cup history
After impressing on their way to the second round in each of their first two FIFA World Cup appearances, 1994 and 1998, Nigeria have struggled since: going out at the group stage three times while taking just two points from their last eight matches in the finals. A muddled South Africa 2010 campaign under Lars Lagerback did little to bolster Nigeria’s reputation, but Brazil 2014 offers another chance for the reigning African champions to soar.

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille FC, France); Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Israel), Daniel Akpeyi (Warri Wolves), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United)
Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (AS Monaco, France); Efe Ambrose (Celtic, Scotland); Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor, Turkey); Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves); Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough, England); Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod FC, Israel); Joseph Yobo (Norwich City, England); Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars)
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea, England); Ramon Azeez (Almeria FC, Spain); Ogenyi Onazi (SS Lazio, Italy); Joel Obi (Parma, Italy); Nnamdi Oduamadi (Varese, Italy); Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Nosa Igiebor (Real Betis, Spain), Sunday Mba (CA Bastia, France), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren, Belgium), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk, Ukraine)
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow, Russia); Shola Ameobi (Newcastle United, England); Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce, Turkey); Obinna Nsofor (Chievo Verona, Italy); Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City, England), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge, Belgium); Victor Moses (Liverpool, England), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen, Holland)

The key players
Coach Stephen Keshi has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense boss who is not afraid to choose in-form domestic players at the expense of more well-known stars, and that policy paid handsome dividends as Nigeria won the 2013 edition of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations. Keshi has kept a relatively stable spine of the team since then, with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel leaving his mixed past with the Eagles behind to become the lynchpin of the side. In goal, Vincent Enyeama is an important veteran, while Victor Moses, Ahmed Musa and Emmanuel Emenike are key parts of a deep attack.

The Coach: Stephen Keshi
Stephen Keshi became only the second person to win the African Cup of Nations as player and coach when he guided Nigeria to the trophy last year. Keshi sees himself as a father figure to his young players, although he guards against complacency by stressing that no one is guaranteed a starting spot. Led Togo to the 2006 World Cup in Germany only to be fired before the tournament began.

Prediction: Group Stages
Barring a set of unpredictable results, it seems likely that Argentina will be comfortable group winners, Iran will collect the wooden spoon, and Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be fighting it out for second place. Both Nigeria and Bosnia have become lethal forces. However, the Europeans qualifying performances sets them apart.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 44th
Best World Cup Result: Second-Round (1994 and 1998)
Best African Nations Cup Result: Winners (1980, 1994 and 2013)
Record Scorer: Rashidi Yekini (37 goals between 1986 and 1998)
Most Capped Player: Joseph Yobo
Captain: Vincent Enyeama

Group Matches:
Sunday 16th June v Iran (Curitiba)
Saturday 21st June v Bosnia-Herzegovina (Cuiaba)
Wednesday 25th June v Argentina (Porto Alegre)

There is a case to be made that World Cups back in the 1970s and 1980s held a far greater sense of intrigue than this summer’s event in Brazil.
With world soccer now so accessible on television and Internet, fans can lap up action from almost every nation and discover players from all over the globe, ensuring that many fans will already be well acquainted with the players on show this summer.
Iran however, are one of the more unknown entities of this summer’s extravaganza. Successfully qualifying automatically after a two-year marathon slog across Asia, they have been managed since 2011 by well-known Portuguese coach Carlos Quieroz, who has increasingly looked to incorporate players from the Iranian diaspora into his squad, namely Mehrdad Beitashour, Ashkan Dejegah and Reza Ghoochannejhad.
A rather unique difficulty that has not helped Iran over the past few years is the political landscape, with very few sides willing to visit Tehran or even play host to Iran. As a consequence, their friendlies against sides such as Mozambique and Belarus will surely not provide adequate practice for the task of facing Lionel Messi.
They have never got past the group stage in their previous three World Cups, and the odds are firmly stacked against them breaking their duck in Brazil.

How they qualified
Under former Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz’s watch, Iran opened the preliminary competition brightly, scoring five unanswered goals past Maldives to progress. And Team Melli were met with little challenge in the next phase, maintaining their undefeated run as they finished section winners with three wins and three draws.
However, despite logging an average of nearly three goals per match in the previous round, the fourth round proved to be more difficult for the strongly favoured Iranians. They found the net just twice in the opening five matches during which they lost twice and drew once to see their campaign in jeopardy. With so much at stake, Queiroz’s side rose to the occasion to see off both Qatar and Lebanon, before overcoming hosts Korea Republic 1-0 in the round’s final match to seal their return to the FIFA World Cup.

World Cup history
Despite their presence within Asia, Iran have so far been unable to progress beyond the group phase at the FIFA World Cup. They finished their debut campaign with a point, courtesy of a 1-1 draw against Scotland. But their first win came in the second appearance when a golden generation, boasting the likes of Ali Daei, Karim Bagheri and Mehdi Mahdavikia, came up with a memorable 2-1 defeat of USA. Their last participation at Germany 2006 saw them head home with a point after a 1-1 draw against debutants Angola.

Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari, Alireza Haghighi, Rahman Ahmadi
Defenders: Hossein Mahini, Steven Beitashour, Pejman Montazeri, Jalal Hosseini, Amir-Hossein Sadeghi, Ahmad Alenemeh, Hashem Beikzadeh, Mehrdad Pouladi
Midfielders: Javad Nekounam, Andranik Teymourian, Reza Haghighi, Ghasem Hadadifar, Bakhtiar Rahmani, Ehsan Hajsafi
Forwards: Ashkan Dejagah, Masoud Shojaei, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Karim Ansarifard, Khosro Heydari

The key players
Filling the void left by Mahdavikia is captain Javad Nekounam, who has quickly established his place as the team's talisman. Aside from providing leadership, the skipper provides creativity alongside former Osasuna team-mate Masoud Shojaei. Belgium-based striker Reza Ghoochannejhad stands out among the emerging generation, while Fulham man Ashkan Dejagah shores up the midfield alongside Andranik Teymourian.

The Coach: Carlos Quieroz
A coach who boasts a stellar CV, having been assistant manager to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United for several years along with spells as manager of Real Madrid and the Portuguese national side.
Taking over a side that had failed to reach South Africa back in 2010, Quieroz has done an admirable job in steering the Iranians through a mammoth qualifying campaign to get to Brazil, following that up with securing qualification to the 2015 Asian Cup.

Prediction: Group Stages
Squaring up against African Cup of Nations champions Nigeria, a Messi-inspired Argentina and World Cup newcomers Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran will be many pundits’ favourites for Group G’s wooden spoon.
Even with the best will in the world, it is hard to see them getting anything from their middle game against the South American giants. In all likelihood, their tournament could well be over by the time their final match arrives, as Nigeria will also surely prove too strong for the Asian outsiders.

Quick Facts:
FIFA Ranking: 37th
Best World Cup Result: Group stage (1978, 1998, 2006)
Best Asian Cup Result: Winners (1968, 1972, 1976)
Record Scorer: Ali Daei (109)
Most Capped Player: Ali Daei (149)
Captain: Javad Nekounam

Group Matches:
Monday 16th June v Nigeria (Curitiba)
Saturday 21st June v Argentina (Belo Horizonte)
Wednesday 25th June v Bosnia-Herzegovina (Salvador)