Messi. Messi. Messi. And that concludes your Group F preview.
That’s obviously a joke but the best player in the world not named Cristiano Ronaldo (and that is debatable) is drawing a huge spotlight on him during the 2014 World Cup. Everywhere you look, in commercials, print ads, and merchandise, you’ll see Lionel Messi’s face. It’s been nearly 30 years since Argentina has lifted the World Cup and Messi carries the weight of the nation squarely on his diminutive shoulders.
Messi, however, is not the only world class player Argentina will put on the field in Brazil. Their attack will also be led by Sergio Aguero (Manchester City) and Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), two players who would be “the” star had they been born in another country. Their goalkeeper Sergio Romero and defense are the huge question marks leading some to wonder if Argentina will have to win games 4-3. And they can.
Not many groups have a clear cut favorite to win and a clear cut favorite to finish last. Group F has this. Iran comes in to this tournament with pretty much no shot in doing much. They’ll have the bus parked with the wheels removed and will just hope for a 0-0 draw against someone. Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina both have a handful of stars and will fight for second when they face off on June 21.
Group F Teams (32 Flags Pre-Tournament Power Ranking):
Argentina (No. 3), Nigeria (No. 17), Bosnia-Herzegovina (No. 19), Iran (No. 32)
Player to Watch in Group F (not named Messi): Edin Dzeko (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
You’ve got to score to win in soccer. Obviously you knew that but Bosnia-Herzegovina possesses one of the most talented strikers in the tournament which will make them dangerous. Dzeko, who plays for English Premier League champions Manchester City, is a natural goal scorer and your prototypical target forward. Before joining Manchester city Dzeko scored 66 goals in 111 appearances for German side VfL Wolfsburg and has netted 48 times in 108 appearances for City.
Last week Dzeko scored twice in St. Louis against Ivory Coast and comes in to the tournament in fine form. Bosnia-Herzegovina could be a real dark horse in the tournament, their first ever. They beat Mexico earlier this week and should benefit from a weaker group. There is talent on this side with top players such as goalkeeper Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma) and Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart). However, if they are to have success it will start up top with Dzeko.
X-Factor in Group F: How good can Argentina be?
Most previews you read and pundits you listen to have Brazil and Spain as the favorites. Argentina has the ability to mentioned in the same breath as the two world powers. Like I noted earlier, Romero and the backline are the huge question mark for the Argentines. Goals will not be an issue for this side.
The 2014 World Cup is a chance for Messi to cement himself, not only as one of the best players in the world currently but among the best of all time. He’s win almost everything that can be won, UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Ballon D’Or. Messi’s trophy case is enormous but there’s one big whole and that’s the World Cup. Getting that last jewel won’t be easy, ask California Chrome. Brazil has the home field advantage but Messi and Argentina are close enough to home to also feel some.
It’s also a fairly easy road for Argentina. After navigating their group they would likely play either Ecuador or Switzerland in the Round of 16. A win there would set up a quarterfinal match up likely against Belgium or whoever finishes second between Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the US. The semifinal would be the big test as a showdown with Spain could be imminent. The dream final for South American fans against Brazil would be show stopping. Argentina can get there. Messi could finish off his trophy case. But will they?
Odds of Winning World Cup (courtesy VegasInsider.com):
Most Important Game: Nigeria vs Bosnia-Herzegovina
If you watched the Nigeria match against the United States yesterday you probably came away underwhelmed by the African champions. They were also underwhelming in their friendly against Greece. While Nigeria has played poorly, The Dragons have impressed. With Argentina a clear favorite to win the group, likely with 9 points, this match will determine the Group F runner-up.
Teams to Move On: Argentina and Bosnia-Herzegovina
As mentioned numerous times above, Argentina is winning the group. This is more than a given. I am a big fan of Bosnia-Herzegovina and think they can impress a lot of people in their World Cup debut. Nigeria have got to shake out of their funk and find a way to win here or they will be making an early flight home to Africa.