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Jun 112014
download World Cup Preview: Group F

Can Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, or Nigeria unseat Argentina?


Much like Group A, where popular consensus seems to hold that Brazil will win the group and the rest of the group will fight for seconds, Group F will likely be a race for second-place. The group features one of the odds-on favorites to win it all (Argentina) and three other sides (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nigeria, and Iran) that are quality teams but that have questions as to whether they can actually make the next step.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. So much of the World Cup, be it from the teams or the individual players, is about who can make that next step. There are plenty of breakthrough players and squads in this group. Who will be that person or that team to break the glass ceiling? Let’s find out.


Let’s not mince words: Argentina is and should be the heavy favorite to win this group. There are no more excuses for this team. In a World Cup in South America with one of the two best players in the world in Lionel Messi (F.C. Barcelona) and a strike partner who could be considered one of the ten best players in the world in Sergio Aguero, Argentina should dominate teams in this group and this tournament. Argentina only lost twice in qualifying so on that end they took care of business in arguably the toughest Confederation in football. Now can they take home the trophy?

The one question that I have with this squad as they go later into the tournament is the defense. It is not necessarily that it there is anything wrong with it. Almost any team in this tournament would kill to have a back-line of Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City,) Martin Demichelis (Manchester City,) Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon,) and Federico Fernandez (Sporting Lisbon). While Argentina had obviously qualified at this point for the World Cup, Uruguay showed that there are holes in the defense. Perhaps it would be only a hole that a world class striker like Suarez can find. But as this tournament goes on those are going to be the teams that Argentina will face.

That being said, Argentina should easily go through this group. Beyond that is the real question.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The only newcomer to the competition, Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for the 2014 World Cup by crushing the minnows of Europe (Liechtenstein, Latvia, Lithuania, and to a lesser extent Slovakia) and edging Greece on goal difference. This was quite the achievement for Bosnia, who had made the playoffs during the previous rounds of qualification for the European Championships in 2012 and the 2010 World Cup only to lose to Portugal on both occasions. Of course, the far more important achievement is how this team has gelled after going through a bloody civil war in the 1990’s that killed thousands. A team made up of Serbs, Croats, and Muslims, this team is a winner no matter how they finish this tournament.

But there is more to this team than just a heart-warming story: They can actually play. Head Coach Safet Susic has transformed this squad into a team that is aggressive on the attacking (akin to the Balkan style that made Yugoslavia such a strong side in international football in the 1980s) and added a bit of German influence on the defense. The “Dragons” as they are more informally known as only gave up six goals during qualifying, which was only second in their group behind the masters of defense Greece.It is a very young line captained by Emir Spahic of Bayer Leverkusen. As a defense, they like to play close to goal and are expert man-markers. Defenders Ermin Bicakcic (1899 Hoffenheim,) Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor,) and Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros) will be called upon to mark the speedy attackers of Argentina and Nigeria to ensure that they do not get a wide open shot at Asmir Begovic (Stoke City.)

On the attack, the two-headed beast of Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart,) and Edin Dzeko (Manchester City,) will strike fear in the hearts of their other three opponents in the group. Combined the dup have scored fifty-five goals for their country and have lifted this team during their darkest hours. Both are able to move without the ball too and have shown that they are willing to be unselfish.

The real question for Bosnia will be how they handle the expectations. They are in an odd position because, as previously mentioned, this is their first time at the World Cup Yugoslavia played in multiple World Cups and European Championships. Although Bosnians do not identify politically with the former regime, they carry their expectations for their sports teams over. “Just happy to be there” doesn’t cut it.



Perhaps the team with the largest number of unknowns, Iran enters this tournament having finished first in their qualifying group in the Asian Football Confederation. Former Brazilian national team coach and current Iran manager Carlos Queiroz has created a side that can play an excellent attacking game but can also defend very well as well.

The biggest question for this side will be how their domestic players do on an international stage. It is a side that is mostly made up of domestic players. None of their four domestic teams (Foolad, Tractor Sazi, Sepahan, and Esteghlal, the 2012-2013 Iran Pro League Champions) made it beyond the Round of 16 in the Asian Champions League and the national team has drawn against the likes of Belarus and lost to Guinea in 2014.

With a very young, inexperienced back-line Iran could struggle against the likes of Aguero and Messi of Argentina, Dzeko and Ibisevic of Bosnia, and Emmanuel Emenike of Nigeria.


The 2013 African Cup of Nations Champions, Nigeria is riding the wave of a youth movement with a solid showing in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and winning a two-legged playoff against Ethiopia. Nigerian head coach Stephen Keshi has completely changed a team that was unable to make the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations and has never been unable to live up to their success that they had in the 1990’s where they won the 1996 Olympics.

Where Keshi has succeeded is bringing in younger players from the Nigerian domestic league and integrating them into the national team. Oh Nigeria is producing quality players that are going to Europe. But where Keshi has succeeded is getting rid of the retreads and bringing in players who are young and hungry and wanting to prove themselves on the biggest stage. In another day and time a player like Obafemi Martins would have made this team and maybe given them some marginal success. But adding younger players like midfielders Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio) and Ramon Azeez (Almeria) will benefit Nigeria both in the short-term and the long-term.

Where the Super Eagles will succeed in this tournament is being able to open up teams on the outside. With midfielders like John Obi Mikel (Chelsea) and Victor Moses (Liverpool) they should find some success in this group opening up teams on the outside. Nigeria will need a huge performance from Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City) to finish off these opportunities and to keep up with the likes of Bosnia and Argentina.

I wonder through if this one tournament too early for Nigeria. It feels like that this process of rebuilding the squad and creating a program where the youth academy filters into the National Team will take at least another tournament or so. That is not to say that Nigeria will not do well in this tournament. But it seems like in international football that a team needs to take their lumps before they can go to the next level.

Player to Watch: Forward Vedad Ibisevic, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Perhaps the lesser-known of the two Bosnian strikers, Ibisevic actually has quite the history here with the United States. Ibisevic spent the majority of his youth here in the United States playing high school football here and attending college at the University of St. Louis. After leaving the United States, and expressing interest playing in the United States National Team, Ibisevic moved back to Europe playing for the likes of Paris St. Germain, 1899 Hoffenheim, and eventually Stuttgart.

Much like with Stuttgart, Ibisevic works best a second-option on the attack. But he can create his own shot as well scoring ten goals for Stuttgart last season in the Bundesliga.



Argentina will win this group. Although it would not shock me to see them get a draw in one match (especially against Nigeria, who they have played in the last two World Cups) anything beyond first place in the group would be unexpected.

As much as it would be good to see Iran get through to the next round, causing chaos in a conservative state and hopefully toppling the regime, it seems very hard to believe that they could over- come established sides like Argentina and Nigeria and the depth of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

As for who will come out on top between Bosnia and Nigeria, the attacking combination of Ibisevic and Dzeko will be too much for the Super Eagles. The Nigerian defense is very green and will be excellent come 2018. But that combination of scorers should be difficult to contain.

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today, Soccerly, D.C. Soccer, Soccer Without Limits, and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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