During qualifying Argentina seem to have finally found their best form. Going 18 months unbeaten, they now field an attacking 4-3-3 with a settled group of players all supporting Messi.
The forward group of Di Maria, Aguero, Higuain and Messi is arguably the strongest of any team at the tournament, and Argentina will be looking to outscore any opposition they turn up against. Certainly they may need to, with a defence that will be likely to leak goals from set pieces, in particular because their goalkeeper options are extremely poor, only Orion playing regularly for his club this season.
However, with an easy group they will hope to get a very good start to the tournament. I predict Argentina to top the group comfortably and end up in the semi-finals, possibly even winning the cup.
Best Finish: Winners – Argentina 1978, Mexico 1986
Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors).
Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Jose Basanta (Monterrey).
Midfielders: Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell’s Old Boys), Enzo Perez (Benfica).
Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St-Germain).
Manager: Alejandro Sabella – ex-Sheffield United player, seems to have Messi firing.
Last line-up: (Argentina 2 – 0 Slovenia)
Fernandez – Mascherano – Basanta
Perez – Fernandez – Biglia – Roho
Alvarez – Lavezzi – Rodriguez
One To Watch: Lionel Messi (ST, Barcelona) – will he finally show up on the big stage?
Following an excellent qualifying campaign in which they scored the fourth most goals of an team in Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina will be fired up to make an impact in this tournament.
With a strong spine of Begovic, Spahic, Pjanic, Dzeko and Ibisevic they will be able to prove themselves capable against any team but, should any of them be injured, there is little good replacement and they will definitely struggle.
As well as this there is the fact that every area not occupied by one of these players can be seen as a weak spot in the team. Still, with an attacking mentality they will look to be able to dominate the weaker teams in this group.
I predict that Bosnia-Herzegovina will be pushing for second place in the group but will come up just short.
Best Finish: Qualified – Brazil 2014
Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen).
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic (Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg).
Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk).
Strikers: Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB).
Manager: Safet Susic – favours a 4-4-2 diamond with a very attacking mentality.
Last line-up: (Mexico 0 – 1 Bosnia-Herzegovina)
Mujdza – Sunjic – Spahic – Salihovic – Besic
Pjanic – Misimovic – Hajrovic – Lulic
One To Watch: Miralem Pjanic (CM, Roma)
Strong defensively and capable on the counter-attack, Iran will be out to prove doubters wrong in their World Cup campaign.
Manager Carlos Quieroz has created an organised team prepared to stick to their game plan against any team they should come up against. He has targeted advancement from the group and, having trained under Alex Ferguson, it is not beyond his abilities to make a team play far beyond it’s talents.
Having said that, Iran are not a team without good players, with Askhan Dejagah in particular capable of changing a game for them and striker Ghoochannejhad out to impress in the less frantically paced environment of international football.
I predict Iran to be the shock team this summer, potentially even beating Bosnia-Herzegovina to progress out of the group.
Best Finish: Group Stages – Argentina 1978, France 1998, Germany 2006
Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha, on loan from Rubin Kazan), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan).
Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis).
Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Haddadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan).
Forwards: Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Saz, on loan from Persepolis), Khosro Heydari (Esteghlal).
Manager: Carlos Queiroz – ex Man U assistant manager and manager of Portugal in 2010.
Heydari – Sadeghi – Hosseini – Beikzadeh
Teymourian – Nekounam
Dejagah – Shojaei – Jahanbakhsh
One To Watch: Reza Ghoochannejhad (ST, Charlton Athletic)
Powerful, pacey and skilful, Nigeria should be able to score goals in this tournament. With striker Emmanuel Emenike flanked by widemen Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa they will certainly be able to challenge any defence in this group. Free of his normal defensive role, John Obi Mikel is also able to get forward and spread passes out to the wingers.
I think all can agree, however, that the big man in Nigeria’s camp is Shola Ameobi. Should the big forward get a chance in Brazil then no doubt he will take it, showing in his last few games for Newcastle that he is back in goalscoring form.
Nigeria also boast a strong defense and decent, if occasionally error prone keepers.
I predict Nigeria to battle it out with Bosnia-Herzegovina for second. I tip the Super Eagles to win out and potentially shock whoever they meet in the Round of 16.
Best Finish: Round of 16 – USA 1994, France 1998
Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United).
Defenders: Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Norwich, on loan from Fenerbahce), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars).
Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk), Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers).
Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Victor Moses (Liverpool, on loan from Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).
Manager: Stephen Keshi – Good motivator, likes Shola.
Last line-up: (USA 2 – 1 Nigeria)
Ambrose – Yobo – Oboabona – Oshaniwa
Onazi – Mikel
Odemwingie – Azeez – Moses
One To Watch:
How do you see this group going? Have your say in our discussion thread here.
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