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Goal analyzes all eight groups in this year's World Cup. In this edition, we take a look at Group F...

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By Brendon Netto


ARGENTINA 

Profile

Titles: World Cup (1978, 1986); Copa America (1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946. 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993); Confederations Cup (1992)
Top Scorer: Gabriel Batistuta (56); Present - Lionel Messi (37)
Most Appearances: Javier Zanetti (145); Present - Javier Mascherano (97)
FIFA Ranking: 5th

Star Man: Lionel Messi

APPS: 85
Goals: 37
Assists: 31

Formation

4-3-3

 

Coach



Alejandro Sabella enjoyed a fine playing career with stints at River Plate, Sheffield United and Leeds United. He was Daniel Passarella's right-hand man for nearly two decades as they coached Argentina in the 1998 World Cup and went on to take charge of Uruguay, Parma, Monterrey, Corinthians and River Plate. He became manager at Estudiantes in 2009 and won the Copa Libertadores. In 2011, he was called up to take charge of the national side.

How they set up

Sabella recognizes that Argentina don't have a Xavi or Iniesta to play behind Lionel Messi and pull the strings from midfield so he substitutes their impeccable distribution with pace and drive. Messi retains his 'false nine' role but is joined in attack by Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero to form a potent strike-force. Angel Di Maria's presence in midfield is crucial as he supplements the attack, acting almost as a fourth forward but has the energy to fall back into midfield as well. Javier Mascherano anchors the midfield and looks to break up play. 

Key Players

Messi is undoubtedly the star man. While he was criticized in the past for his international form, ever since Sabella handed him the captaincy when he was appointed, the Barcelona forward has been a revellation, scoring 10 times in 14 World Cup qualifiers. Meanwhile, Di Maria is just as crucial to this Argentina team with his energy and ability to link-up with the attack. He's had a great season with Real Madrid and he's the one that makes this system work. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Argentina's strength lies in their three-pronged attack of Messi, Aguero and Higuain, which is supplemented with the forward runs of Di Maria. In Fernando Gago they have a decent passer in midfield while Mascherano excels in shielding the defense. Because of their pace in upfront, they thrive on the counter-attack. 

The defensive pairing of Ezequiel Garay and Federico Fernandez is a cause for concern. Sabella may be tempted to use Martin Demichelis to instill some experience at the back. They also lack cover for Mascherano who remains their only true midfield ball-winner in the squad. They rely heavily on him to do the defensive work and might struggle if he is unavailable or having an off day.

Expectation

Argentina have an embarrassment of riches in attack and the system they employ now is tailor-made to suit their strengths. They are easily one of the best teams on paper and given that they should be accustomed to the conditions in Brazil, they have a slight advantage as well.

There's every chance that they could go all the way to the finals if their key players deliver but a semi-final berth is a realistic target and would be a regarded as a fine performance.


BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA 

Profile

Titles: None
Top Scorer: Edin Dzeko (35)
Most Appearances: Zvjezdan Misimovic (82)
FIFA Ranking: 21st

Star Man: Edin Dzeko

APPS: 62
Goals: 35
Assists: 15

Formation

4-3-1-2

 

Coach



Safet Susic has done most of his domestic coaching in Turkey apart from his spell with Cannes in France and a brief stint in Saudi Arabia. He was appointed as Bosnia-Herzegovina's head coach in 2009 and has since won half of his 42 games in charge whilst playing some bold attacking football. As a player, he played for Yugoslavia in the 1982 and 1990 World Cups and was voted the best player in Paris Saint-Germain's history.

How they set up

Attack, attack, attack - that's Susic's mantra and he brazenly admits to it. "We know that we expose ourselves too much and that there is a huge risk in the way we play," he confesses. Setting-up in a 4-3-1-2 formation, Bosnia have a fine striking duo in Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic. They are ably supported by the experienced Zvjezdan Misimovic playing in the hole while the attack is well supplemented by attack-minded midfielders in Miralem Pjanic and Senad Lulic. Haris Medunjanin is something of a makeshift defensive midfielder and works to shield the back four, although his distribution contributes to the attack as well.  

Key Players

Edin Dzeko is Bosnia's all-time leading goal scorer and has enjoyed his best season with Manchester City, plundering 26 goals in all. Many of those were crucial strikes in their title-winning campaign. He was also the second top scorer in Europe during the World Cup qualifiers with 10 goals and his side will be relying on him to deliver at the tournament itself. His partnership upfront with Ibisevic is the major threat Bosnia pose while AS Roma playmaker, Pjanic can be devastating with his creativity and forward runs. Sead Kolasinac at just 20 years-old is their most impressive defender and one to watch out for. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Their strength undoubtedly lies in attack with Dzeko and Ibisevic combining to good effect. Misimovic, Lulic and Pjanic offer good support from midfield as well and it's their creativity that can get the best out of the front pair.

Meanwhile, Medunjanin is also more creative than combative despite featuring in a withdrawn role. That bodes well when they are on the ball but without it, they struggle as the 29 year-old is not the best at shielding languid defense. They will have to alter their system or they could be humiliated against the counter-attacking threat of Argentina in particular.

Expectation

Bosnia-Herzegovina have nothing to lose as they are far from favourites to make it out of the group and have been lauded just for qualifying for the tournament. They can play with the attacking freedom they enjoy but should be cautious in their opener against Argentina. A mauling against one of the best attacks in the competition could ruin their World Cup experience and undo a lot of the positivity they've generated thus far.
 
IRAN 

Profile

Titles: Asian Cup (1968, 1972, 1976)
Top Scorer: Ali Daei (109); Present - Ali Karimi (38)
Most Appearances: Ali Daei (149); Present - Javad Nekounam (139)
FIFA Ranking: 43rd

Star Man: Reza Ghoochannejhad

APPS: 13
Goals: 9
Assists: 1

Formation

4-2-3-1

 

Coach



Carlos Queiroz took over the Iranian national team in 2011 and hasn't proved to be much of a people-pleaser since. His open criticism of their football federation and his unpopular decision to recruit players who grew up abroad hasn't won him many fans. The former Real Madrid manager has however got them playing well. He's expected to leave his post after the World Cup and will look to do well in order to land a job in Europe again.

How they set up

Queiroz has used a 4-3-3 as well as a 4-2-3-1 in competitive games but given the limited quality of personnel at his disposal, the latter has proved to be the safer system. The feeling is that a 4-3-3 doesn't offer the defense enough protection. Captain Javad Nekounam and Andranik Teymourian play as the two holding midfielders and bring experience to the side. Fulham's Ashkan Dejagah and Alireza Jahanbakhsh offer pace down the flanks. Meanwhile, the spritely Reza Ghoochannejhad leads the line and is supported by Masoud Shojaei who plays as the number 10.

Key Players

The most high-profile player is Dejagah having plied his trade in the Premier League and he's a key figure in attack with his technique and strikes from range. However, it's the new kid on the block Ghoochannejhad who has got the fans excited.

The 26 year-old striker who grew up in the Netherlands currently plays for Charlton Athletic and scored 9 goals in 13 appearances for Iran so far, proving to be crucial to their qualifying campaign. Skipper Nekounam is the heartbeat of the side. He anchors the midfield and orchestrates their build-up play.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Iran are well organized under Queiroz and have the aptitude to attack sides. The pace of Ghoochannejhad upfront is a serious threat and if the two holding midfielders perform, they may just keep the opposition at bay.

The lack of quality is evident though and despite some good results over the past year, they could easily come undone against a top side. The defense is far too slow and vulnerable and even in attack, Shojaei remains inconsistent.

Expectation

Iran have never made it past the group stages in their three previous World Cup appearances and aren't expected to do so this time either. They would have to pull off a couple of upsets to make it through but preparations for the tournament have been shoddy to say the least and they don't seem to have the team spirit needed to beat the odds.


NIGERIA 

Profile

Titles: African Cup of Nations (1980, 1994, 2013)
Top Scorer: Rashidi Yekini (37); Present - Emmanuel Emenike
Most Appearances: Joseph Yobo (97)
FIFA Ranking: 44th

Star Man: John Obi Mikel

APPS: 59
Goals: 4
Assists: 10

Formation

4-3-3

 

Coach



As a player, Stephen Keshi captained Nigeria to the 1994 African Cup of Nations title and then to their first World Cup appearance later that year. He has had three spells as coach of Togo in the past and guided them to the 2006 World Cup. He was made Nigeria head coach in 2011 and won the 2013 African Cup of Nations and was also voted African Coach of the year.

How they set up

Nigeria are a well balanced side under Keshi. They operate in a 4-3-3 system that enables them to show off their flair and attacking instincts. Ahmed Musa provides pace down the left wing and Peter Odemwingie's recent form may afford him a place on the right. The prolific Emmanuel Emenike leads the line while Victor Moses is likely to play in behind him. Covering for the four attackers are Ogenyi Onazi and John Obi Mikel although the former's defensive awareness allows the latter to venture forward on occasion as well. Nigeria have a mobile central defensive pairing in Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona.

Key Players

John Obi Mikel is hardly the most exciting of the Chelsea players but put him in a Nigerian shirt and Mr. Pass-it-sideways transforms into a dynamic, attack-minded central midfield, boasting a neat array of passes. He's the one who orchestrates the team's play and with Ogenyi Onazi at his side, he has the freedom to venture forward as well. Moses is a good link-man between midfield and attack and his pace through the middle can be devastating while CSKA Moscow's Musa has plenty of tricks in his locker to go along with his pace. Vincent Enyeama enjoyed a fantastic season at Lille between the sticks and was voted the Best Goalkeeper of Ligue 1 where he nearly broke the record for the highest number of consecutive cleansheets.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Their strength lies in what they can accomplish in the opposition's half. Emenike is a strong frontman with excellent finishing while the trickery of those in support complements him well. Onazi and Mikel make for a strong and capable engine room for the Nigerians and the cohesion within the squad is good as well.

They may not have the best defense but they are sufficiently equipped in all departments. However, several players are prone to inconsistency and they may have to turn to their bench for inspiration.

Expectation

Nigeria are a relatively solid outfit and should make it past the group stages. Anything less than that would be a disappointment. Realistically, a quarter-finals berth should be well within their reach. No African side has made it to the semi-finals yet but if they gain momentum during the tournament, you wouldn't put it past them.


Prediction: 1. Argentina 2. Nigeria 3. Bosnia-Herzegovina 4. Iran


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