2014 World Cup Brazil: Group F Preview

June 8, 2014

If you listen too much to the wrong media (shameless plug for this site), all you’ll hear about Group F is “Messi, Messi, Messi”. But Group F is more than just the speedy Argentinian star. In fact, despite La Albiceleste being the overriding favorite to win the group, it could get pretty hairy given the right circumstances.

We could call this pairing the “Group of Potential”. It works because no one really expects a whole lot out of three of the squads in the group, but the potential to play spoiler is right in front of all of them.

Let’s preview Group F.

Hi, My Name Is… (Players to Watch)

Lionel Messi, Argentina forward

Okay, okay…I know. First I said this group is much more than Messi, then I feature him him in the “Players to Watch” section. But there is no denying that the four time Ballon d’Or winner and scorer of 37 goals in 36 games for Barcelona last year will be the center of attention in Group F. Messi has actually had some difficulty adjusting to the national team in past World Cups, scoring just one goal in eight matches. But if 10 goals in 14 qualification games is any indication, it seems as though Messi is ready to fully accept his role as the undisputed leader of La Albiceleste.

He is the best player in the world and he needs to be at his best for Argentina to have a legitimate shot at hoisting the Cup in mid-July. But even if he has some issues finding the back of the net, he is the full package and can help create chances for strikers Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero. Messi deserves the spotlight, but he definitely isn’t alone in his quest.

Edin Dzeko, Bosnia-Herzegovina striker

Dzeko is just one part of a two-pronged spear that has the chance to be a real source of excitement during this World Cup. Along with Vedad Ibisevic, Dzeko combined to score 18 goals for the Bosnian side during qualification en route to the country’s first World Cup berth as a unified nation. The reason that Dzeko is so electric is because he doesn’t have to worry about long spells without a chance to attack. Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defense does a good job of clearing the ball out of trouble and giving its strikers lots of opportunities to score. Often times, it is Dzeko taking those chances.

Because of the difficult childhoods of many players on this team, expect Dzeko to get some attention from the media as the star of the squad. If Bosnia-Herzegovina has success, and there is a good chance that it will, expect that attention to skyrocket. If Dzeko is doing well, the team in general will probably be doing well.

They’ll Move On If…

Argentina – Any of the capable players up front are playing well and the defense is merely serviceable. Once in the knockout stage the defensive issues will become more glaring, but during group play Argentina will likely be able to get away with simply bullying the opposing defense. It might take three goals to beat a team like Bosnia-Herzegovina, but that isn’t like asking for a miracle for this squad.

Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dzeko and Ibisevic continue to have success around the box. The defense should be good enough to keep this squad in games, but the difference between a tie and a win will be the play of the two strikers. Combining for 18 of the team’s 30 goals during qualification is encouraging, but the level of competition will be much stiffer on this stage. If inexperience isn’t an issue, expect success from the Bosnian side.

Iran – Luck is on their side. Extremely good luck. This team is underfunded and didn’t get the proper tune-up games like most teams in the tournament, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Team Melli overwhelmed even in its first game against Nigeria. The talent on the pitch isn’t the biggest issue, but it’s still a disadvantage. Scoring a few goals and coming away with any points would be an accomplishment.

Nigeria – The defense is incredible for the first 80 minutes and the attack somehow punches one in during the last 10 minutes of each match. The Super Eagles didn’t look very good in the final tune-up against the United States, playing uninspired, sloppy football for the majority of the game. Strong defense is the strategy from this squad, but it’s hard to imagine either Argentina or Bosnia-Herzegovina not scoring any goals against Nigeria. You need to score to win.

Most Crucial Matches

Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina (June 15, 6 PM ET)

If there is one team in this group with the offensive firepower to give Argentina a run for its money, it would be Bosnia-Herzegovina. With a two headed monster up front that is Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic, the Bosnian side is the only one in the group that will employ a strategy capable of exposing Argentina’s weak defense. It will be a tall task stopping Argentina’s attack, but Bosnia-Herzegovina is strong defensively and will have a shot. Since this is the first game of the group, it wouldn’t be surprising to see each side kind of feel each other out for a bit. But rest assured, goals will scored. That’s plural.

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Nigeria (June 21, 6 PM ET)

This is a huge game for both sides, probably a determinate of who has the best shot of moving on to the knockout stage heading into the third match of group play. Given that Bosnia-Herzegovina is the underdog in its first game and Nigeria is the favorite, there is a chance that the European squad will need three points to feel comfortable. Those things being said, expect the Bosnian squad to attack relentlessly and punch a hole in the strong Nigerian defense. The Super Eagles may not feel the need to steal a win but rather walk away with at least a draw, so they could be content with employing a brick wall strategy on the back end. The result would be a match featuring two teams doing what they do best, which is always fun to watch.

How They’ll Finish (picks in bold move on to Knockout Stage)

1. Argentina – 7 points

2. Bosnia-Herzegovina – 5 points

3. Nigeria – 2 points

4. Iran – 1 point

– K. Becks

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