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This feature profiles the Super Eagles' three group stage opponents and forecasts what the summer might bring for the Super Eagles in Group F

FEATURE
By Ayo Isaiah

Nigeria will make her fifth FIFA World Cup appearance in Brazil, 20 years after making her debut under the stewardship of Dutchman Clemens Westerhof and captain Stephen Keshi

The Super Eagles are drawn with Iran, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Argentina in Group F and will open their campaign against Iran in Curitiba. 

Argentina are clear favourites to top the group but the African champions are definitely up there to make it out of Group F and into the next round. 

Let us, then, take a close look at the group, making the rounds of their opponents, examining what we can expect when play starts on June 16 as the countdown continues to the start of the tournament. 

Game 1: Iran, 16 June, 8:00pm WAT*, Curitiba.

Does Queiroz hold the key to Iran's summer?

Nickname: Team Melli  

FIFA World Ranking: 43

Highest / Lowest FIFA ranking: 15 (July 2005) / 122 (May 1996) 

World Cup Titles: 0 (Best Finish: Group Stage, 1978, 1998, 2006) 

AFC Asian Cup Titles: 3 (Winners; 1968, 1972, 1976) 

Coach: Carlos Queiroz 

Captain: Javad Nekounam 

Key Players: Javad Nekounam, Reza Ghoochannejhad, Masoud Shojaei, Ashkan Dejagah. 

Record vs. Nigeria: 0 wins, 0 draws, 1 loss 

Nigeria and Iran will open Group F of the 2014 World Cup on June 16 with both teams knowing that a bad start will spell doom for their campaign, particularly with Argentina lying in wait. 

The Iranian national side head to Brazil as Asia's top dog, but their preparation for the tournament has been less than impressive. They played one international friendly match in June 2013, against Guinea in Tehran, which they lost 2-1. 

The tactical prowess of Mozambique-born coach Carlos Queiroz may well be the major strength of the team, but Team Melli are rock-solid in defence as well, conceding just seven goals in 16 qualifying games. 

Much of the responsibility will rest on the shoulders of skipper and playmaker Javad Nekounam. The 33-year-old is the fulcrum of the Iranian side and his wealth of experience will be key if the Asians are to upset the Super Eagles. 

Stephen Keshi's men, however, will be keen to get their World Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a win over the Iranians. Anything short of a win will put the Super Eagles' bid to reach the knockout phases in jeopardy. 

Maximum points in this opening fixture will be a real morale booster for the lads and set them on the right footing ahead of the second group game against Bosnia-Herzegovina. 

Game 2: Bosnia & Herzegovina, 21 June, 11:00pm WAT, Cuiaba.

Bosnia | Unlikely to be overrawed by the occasion

Nickname: Zmajevi (Dragons) 

FIFA World Ranking: 21

Highest / Lowest FIFA ranking: 13 (August 2013) / 173 (September 1996) 

World Cup Titles: 0 (World Cup debut) 

European Titles: 0 

Coach: Safet Sušić 

Captain: Emir Spahić 

Key Players: Asmir Begovic, Miralem Pjanic, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Vedad Ibisevic, Emir Spahic, Edin Dzeko.

Record vs. Nigeria: No previous meeting. 

Bosnia & Herzegovina is making her World Cup debut, and had an outstanding qualifying campaign winning eight of ten matches and losing only once. 

The Bosnians sealed direct qualification to Brazil 2014 on the final day of qualifying, beating Lithuania 1-0 to edge past Greece on goal difference and top the group. 

While there's no doubt that they benefited from a relatively easy group, Safet Susic's men have given good indication that they have the ability to compete with the world's best teams. 

They will be hoping to do more than just show up, tapping into the same magic that propelled the then-debutants Croatia to claim bronze at France 1998. 

It will be Stephen Keshi's men who will stand in their way on June 21. The contest in Cuiaba is likely to be the one where both teams will begin the game cautiously hoping to pounce on any slip-ups made by the opposition. 

In the end, it will probably be a close affair, maybe 1-0 or 2-1, but Nigeria can expect to take all three points as the inexperienced Bosnians will find it hard to cope with the harsh humid conditions, plus the strength and pace of the Super Eagles. 

Game 3: Argentina, 25 June, 5:00PM WAT, Porto Alegre.

Argentina | Backed to cruise through Group F

Nickname: La Albiceleste 

FIFA World Ranking: 5

Highest / Lowest FIFA ranking: 1 (March 2007) / 24 (August 1996) 

World Cup Titles: 2 (Winners; 1978 and 1986) 

Copa América Titles: 14 ( Winners; 1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993) 

Coach: Alejandro Sabella 

Captain: Lionel Messi 

Key Players: Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi. 

Record vs. Nigeria: 4 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss 

Nigeria and Argentina are no strangers to each other and will be meeting for the fourth time in the group stages of the World Cup finals. The two nations first clashed in USA 1994 when a Claudio Caniggia brace condemned the Super Eagles to a 2-1 defeat. 

Again in 2002, Gabriel Batistuta scored a late winner to sink the Africans while Gabriel Heinze netted the only goal as Argentina won again at the expense of Nigeria in 2010. 

Argentina were imperious in qualifying and topped South America's nine-team qualifying group with Lionel Messi racking up 12 goals including two hat-tricks. The Argentines have no shortage of attacking talent with the likes Messi, Aguero, di Maria and Higuian all set to play crucial roles. 

The other end of the field is a different story. Despite boasting a wealth of riches in attack, their defensive frailties will not be lost on coach Alejandro Sabella.  

The 59-year-old veteran has been able to build a more compact team after he took over from Diego Maradona in 2010. With Messi in his side, Sabella advocates tactics that will yield the best performances from his captain, while encouraging quick and precise breaks. 

Vincent Enyeama was in inspired form to stop Messi at the last World Cup but can he do it again? A draw will most probably suit the African champions, especially if they can take maximum points from the opening two fixtures. An upset could even be on the cards. 

All things being said, though, Argentina have to be the favourite to win. Sabella's men have beaten Nigeria in all their three previous meetings at this level and it will be difficult for the Eagles to overcome this physiological burden. Either way, Nigeria will march into the second round. 

 

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Guest articles are not the opinion of Goal. Contributions not less than 700 words can be sent in via nigeriadesk@goal.com. They will be edited for clarity.


*WAT - West African Time

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