The selling point of this fascinating group is quite simple: diversity. While some of the other groups have a collection of teams that have rivalries or are used to playing one another, the teams in Group F are as different as they could possibly be.
Four teams, representing four different continents, with four very different styles of football – Group F may not hold the tournament’s biggest teams, but it is definitely the World Cup’s most diverse group.
Here are your Group F contenders:
Argentina (Ranked 5th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Argentina are undoubtedly one of the most exciting teams in the 2014 World Cup. The men in blue and white have a history littered with some of the world’s greatest attacking players, and they head into this summer once again bearing that tag.
Managed by legendary player Diego Maradona, Argentina were the maddest team at the previous World Cup. They were overloaded with offensive threats, blowing teams away with their attacking style of play. For a brief moment, football fans everywhere could actually envision mad scientist Maradona leading his boys to a World Cup trophy – and then they got smashed 4-0 by Germany in the quarter-finals. It turns out defence does matter.
And while they are again bringing an offensive collection of players with them to the World Cup this year, manager Alejandro Sabella has made sure that they look in better shape on the other side of things as well. Many of their defenders are coming off of impressive club seasons, and a back line of Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay and Rojo could actually be one of the strongest at the entire tournament.
But let’s not detract from what makes Argentina such a ridiculously exciting prospect: they just have a mindbogglingly superb front line. It seems like every single attacking player that Argentina have at their disposal is coming off of a stellar year – Higuain, Aguero, Di Maria and (of course) Messi have all been lethal for their clubs. Their defence is improved, but it’ll certainly be this firepower that could propel them to glory.
Player to watch: There’s no point being clever or looking for something outside of the box with this one. It just has to be Lionel Messi. The fleet-footed wizard has been one of the best (or the best, as showcased by his four Ballon D’or trophies) players in the world for the last five years now. There are simply no superlatives left to describe Messi – he is a phenomenon, smashing records and playing some of the greatest football the universe has ever seen. All Messi needs to secure his status as the greatest player of all time is the small feat of winning the World Cup for his country. Simple, right?
Predicted group finish: First place. Whether or not Argentina can find the right balance between offence and defence is yet to be seen, but even with (and maybe especially with) a gung-ho approach, they will blow away Group F.
Predicted overall finish: This is the tricky one, and the simple, unrewarding answer is: anywhere. Argentina may be the most unpredictable team at this World Cup – if they click, the results could be devastating. It’s not inconceivable to think that they could lift their first World Cup trophy since 1986, but that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be blown away by France in the next round. Expect anything.
Bosnia and Herzegovina (Ranked 21st in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Bosnia and Herzegovina are competing in their first ever major international tournament since they gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1992. Twenty-two years later, they’ve finally qualified, are ready to proudly represent their country. What a story.
It definitely hasn’t been easy for Bosnia. In fact, they’ve had heartache twice before they were finally able to achieve their dream – they lost in the World Cup 2010 qualification playoff round, and then again in the Euro 2012 playoff, both times to Portugal.
But they are finally here, and they’ll be looking to make their first international tournament a memorable one. Bosnia’s players have been bursting onto the scene via the Bundesliga, and despite this being their first World Cup appearance, they actually have a very capable squad.
From back to front, Bosnia have players capable of making a difference for them this summer. Asmir Begović has been a fantastic Premier League goalkeeper for Stoke City, while Miralem Pjanić has been pulling the creative strings for Roma and Edin Džeko’s goalscoring exploits helped fire Manchester City to a Premier League title. These players will need to make key contributions as they represent their country for the first time ever on the world’s biggest stage.
Player to watch: Edin Džeko, despite starting this season as third choice striker at Manchester City, has proven that he is the man for the big occasion. This is the biggest footballing occasion his country has ever witnessed, and it’ll be Džeko who carries the weight of their dreams on his shoulders. He’s even an outside bet for the tournament’s top scorer.
Predicted group finish: Second or third place. Bosnia have a great chance at making it out of this group and taking their dream one step further. It’ll come down to their games against Nigeria and Iran – come out on top, and second place is theirs.
Predicted overall finish: Even if they make it out of the group, they probably won’t go any farther than that. The next round would mean a match-up against either France or Switzerland, and while being a good team, Bosnia would fall short. That won’t ruin their party though, they’re loving just being here.
Iran (Ranked 43rd in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Iran, similarly to Bosnia, are proud just to be representing their country at this summer’s World Cup. They have been here before, but a spotty qualification record (and the fact that they’ve never made it out of the group stage) means that for them, success has already been achieved.
Having failed to qualify last time, Ŝirāne Irān (The Iranian Lions) came through the Asian qualifying groups to end up in this year’s group stages. Ranked first in the AFC, they are technically the best their continent has to offer (although Japan is a far superior team), but that will likely not be enough for them to make an impact at the World Cup.
Iran’s squad is made up of a vast majority of domestic based players, which is a direct indicator of the quality of player they are bringing with them. Only 19-year-old Sardar Azmoun, playing his club football with Rubin Kazan in Russia, offers any hope for the future of Iranian football.
Although this isn’t one of the World Cup’s best groups, manager Carlos Quieroz (who previously had an unsuccessful stint managing Portugal) will face an uphill battle to finish anything other than last place. He won’t be breaking Iran’s group stage duct for another four years, but if he can give exposure and experience to Azmoun, it will be a successful tournament nonetheless.
Player to watch: It may be too soon for prodigy Sardar Azmoun to make an impact, so Iran will be relying on 33-year-old captain Javad Nekounam to lead the way. Coming into the tournament with an incredible 139 caps for his country (second only to record-holder Ali Daei with 149) the Iranian captain will embody his country’s passion. He may not be the world’s most skilled player, but he will leave his sweat, tears and blood on the pitch.
Predicted group finish: Fourth place. Iran simply lack the quality that the rest of this group (at least in parts) has to offer. Third place isn’t out of the question, but it would take a minor miracle for them to come out of Group F.
Nigeria (Ranked 44th in FIFA’s World Ranking)
Nigeria have quietly been a rising force in African football for a while now. Since 2000, they have finished in the top three at the African Cup of Nations tournament six times, including a sensational first place finish at the most recent one in 2013.
On top of that, they’ve actually been very prominent on FIFA’s big stage too. Five of the last six World Cups (the only exception being 2006 in Germany) have seen Nigeria make an appearance, and although they haven’t made it out of the group stages in 12 years, the Super Eagles have a constant presence in the tournament.
Manager Steven Keshi (who led Togo to the 2006 World Cup, but was bizarrely sacked a few months prior to the tournament) is bringing a very young squad with him to Brazil. The Nigerian players he has called up bode well for the country, with most of them playing abroad in England, Italy and other European countries.
His team selection clearly worked at the 2013 African Cup of Nations, but this will be a completely different challenge. Nigeria play with an abundance of pace and strength (hence why so many of their players find success in the Premier League) and because of that, they will always be a handful to contain. They pose an interesting question in Group F, and they may make a decisive contribution one way or another.
Player to watch: Moses was Nigeria’s main man at the most recent African Cup of Nations, but after an unsuccessful loan spell at Liverpool, the winger is incredibly out of form. Because of that, Chelsea’s combative ball-winning midfielder John Obi Mikel will have to be the key man for his country. Mikel will need to be a rock in Nigeria’s midfield when they play key matches against Argentina and Bosnia. He will need to be constantly winning back possession, hoping to give his country a platform to build on.
Predicted group finish: Third place. If (and it’s a big if) Moses can fire himself back into the form that he showed at the 2013 AFCON, Nigeria could give Bosnia a battle for second place. But as is, they simply lack genuine goal threats. It’s not done and dusted just yet, but they need the stars to align to come out of this group.