By: Travis Thayer
6:00 ET Sunday, June 15: Argentina v. Bosnia-Herzegovina ESPN
3:00 ET Monday, June 16: Iran v. Nigeria ESPN
12:00 ET Saturday, June 21: Argentina v. Iran ESPN
6:00 ET Saturday, June 21: Nigeria v. Bosnia-Herzegovina ESPN
12:00 ET Wednesday, June 25: Nigeria v. Argentina ESPN
12:00 ET Wednesday, June 25: Bosnia-Herzegovina v. Iran ESPN 2
Argentina’s opening game is against Bosnia-Herzegovina, and if there is a winner in that game, that team will win the group. Argentina is expected to win the group, so naturally they should be favored to win against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Argentina is loaded with talent, and it starts at the top with arguably the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. Messi hasn’t performed up to his standards in the World Cup, only scoring one goal in eight caps. That will need to change if Argentina is to make a deep run into the knockout rounds, but Messi should have plenty of help with the likes of Angel di Maria, Sergio Aguero, and Gonzalo Higuain.
Bosnia-Herzegovina will be making their first every appearance in the World Cup, and they have a great chance of advancing. This team can flat-out score because of forwards Edin Dzeko of Manchester City and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic. Last August, Bosnia lost a to the United States 4-3 in a wildly contested friendly. That game showed that Bosnia isn’t afraid to throw caution to the wind. They attack with ferocity, and although they don’t have many big names on defense – outstanding Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic can single-handedly keep them in games. The game to watch will be the opener of Group F against Argentina, as the game will likely be fast-paced, and heavy on the attacking side.
Iran appears to be a huge underdog within this group. They are the least talented team on paper, and it will take a monumental letdown from the three other teams in the group if Iran hopes to advance. They have an experienced manager, Carlos Quieroz, who has managed for both Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team. Since his arrival as the Iran boss, the team has shown good structural discipline. That discipline helped Iran shock South Korea 1-0 in a win that would put Iran atop of their qualifying group. There is a chance Iran could be more competitive than people think, but they shouldn’t be able to keep up scoring wise with the big boys of the group.
Nigeria is a quality team who now makes the World Cup virtually every four years. They were the champions of the African Cup of Nations in 2013, and they easily made it through their qualifying stage. Nigeria has had the misfortune of being drawn into Argentina’s group three out of four times at the World Cup, and that is the one team they didn’t want to see. Argentina has won the group each time, and it could be deja vu for the Nigerians again in 2014. The Nigerians have their most talented team ever for this go-around. John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses (Chelsea) lead the Nigerians while Stoke City forward Peter Odemwingie and CSKA Moscow forward Ahmed Musa are expected to contribute. Nigeria also has Vincent Enyeama (Lille), a solid goalkeeper who is largely considered the best keeper in Africa. Nigeria could be a dangerous team in Group F with a legitimate chance of advancing.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Lionel Messi, Argentina – There were several options for the Argentinian side, but there might not be another guy in the world worth watching. Messi has been long considered the best player in the world, and everyone has been waiting to see how good he is on the biggest stage. Messi hasn’t had that big signature moment at the World Cup, and I personally want to see him do something special this time around.
Edin Dzeko, Bosnia-Herzegovina – Dzeko is Bosnia’s most well-known player today, and he has shown the ability to be a scoring machine. Dzeko has great size for a forward at 6’4, and he is deadly in the air. The 28-year old striker is making his first appearance in the World Cup, and it would be shocking if he doesn’t put a few balls in the back of the net.
Reza Ghoochannejhad, Iran – It speaks to the lack of talent that Iran has, that a guy who struggles to see time in the English second-tier is their player to watch. Ghoochannejhad is a striker at Charleton, and he is being looked at as a guy who needs to put the team on his back. That is a lot of pressure for a guy who doesn’t even play at the highest club level.
John Obi Mikel, Nigeria – John Obi Mikel is the glue that keeps the Nigerians together. He is a constant as a defensive mid, and he may be the only hope for Nigeria against Argentina and Bosnia who are attack heavy. Most of Nigeria’s talent is on the offensive side of the field, and even though Mikel didn’t see much time at Chelsea this season – he should still be a standout for Nigeria in the World Cup.
HOW THE GROUP WILL PLAY OUT
Argentina should win this group, or at least be the runner-up who advances. Their first match against Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the big test, and will likely give an indication on who will win the group. Argentina has enough firepower to beat anyone in the world, and they are all but guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16. Bosnia-Herzegovina has shot up the world-rankings the past few years, and they are yet another team who can really score the ball. Yet, I can see them being down three points after their first match with Argentina, which should opener the door for Nigeria. Nigeria could possibly be ahead of Bosnia by three points leading into what should be a crucial second game for both teams. As much fun as it would be to see Nigeria go through to the knockout rounds, I just don’t see it happening. Nigeria should make things interesting, but the draw sets up well for Bosnia, as they get their toughest game out-of-the-way first.