Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 World Cup Group F Preview

One team and then a bunch of others. That may just be the popular perception of Group F. But is it?

This World Cup is so massive for Argentina on many fronts, it's hard to hit them all. The Lionel Messi talk is not without foundation, and the team's relative strength everywhere including being in South America for this tournament makes them one of the 4 most likely to win it. But where are the possible holes in this squad? One may argue on defense, but they seem to have found some relative strength in there with players like Zabaleta, Demichelis (I know) and Garay. They certainly have it spades up front. Where Argentina may encounter some problems come in the middle of the park, especially when we talk about Javier Mascherano. He is good at many things, although he is not good at everything. It would be tragic to see the playmaking duties fall on his shoulders, especially when the squad has players like Maxi Rodriguez and Angel Di Maria in it; players who could probably shoulder those burdens better. If Mascherano has to create and break-up, then Argentina could be in for some issues. But even at that, Argentina may be second favorites to win the trophy because of all of those things plus having an all time great at the height of his powers... if he wants to be. If Messi is Messi, then this could finally be his and Argentina's day. But if not, there will be inquests and inquisitions at his door that may never end.

It is always exciting to see fresh blood in a tournament like this, and Bosnia are a welcome addition to the field. This is their first major tournament ever, and they have only been in existence as a federation since 1995. And this team may be the second most fun in the tournament to watch behind Japan. They score a boatload of goals, and when you have players like Miralem Pjanic, Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic among others, then you probably should score in buckets. They have showed well in their World Cup warm-ups, which is encouraging for a team that hasn't been on this type of stage before. The issues come at the back, with a very inexperienced back 4 even for Bosnian standards, let alone major tournament standards. Emir Spahic is the veteran among a sea of younger and talented, yet green defenders that will learn by fire in this tournament. While it does help to have a keep like Asmir Begovic behind you, it may not be enough. Their stay in Brazil might be short, but at least it will be fun to watch.

The Super Eagles are always a fascinating team to watch, namely because they are always challenging to be Africa's best, and are almost always vocal about it. Yet, they have not lived up to standards when the time has come at World Cups. Their showing in the African Cup of Nations last year was impressive, yet they still didn't look at their best at the Confederations Cup. They are young, but they do have promise almost everywhere. Players like John Obi Mikel, Victor Moses, Joel Obi are among some names you may know, and they are all either in the prime, or just about to hit the prime of their careers. Yet, there is always a concern about what they can or cannot do when the time comes to put their feet in the World Cup door. They seem to do it when it comes to it during African tournaments, but can they do it in a World Cup for once? The game against Bosnia will probably determine their fate.

Iran are returning to the World Cup after a one Cup absence, and their presence in 1998 was at least troubling for US fans (bad memories I know), and they weren't more than a footnote in the story in Germany. And this tournament seems to be no different. Their qualifying wasn't overtly impressive, needing a win in South Korea on the last day to qualify automatically. There are not many names that will be familiar on a large scale because this squad is mainly Iran-based, but there are a few stories to tell. Steven Beitashour is an Iranian-American who never fully got a shot with the US team and will likely be one of the starting fullbacks for Iran, and that's always a good story to tell. Javad Nekounam is still around, and after his run with Osasuna he has gone back to relative obscurity, but the strength of Iran runs through him. There are 2 players in English football that may create some waves in Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejad, both players who can put the ball in the back of the net, but didn't consistently when they moved to Blighty. They are managed by Carlos Quieroz who has done a pretty impressive job considering the issues he's had to work around, so getting here is impressive enough, and anything more might be cause for parades in Tehran.

Prediction: If Argentina do not get 9 points then there will be shock and awe among many, and it's Nigeria and Bosnia to fight out for second.

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