By Umeike Chike
On Friday, December 6, 2013, in the city of Salvador, Brazil, contingents of the 32 teams that qualified for the FIFA 2014 World Cup gathered to know their group opponents. It was an ecstatic atmosphere which had in attendance legends like Zidane, Cafu, Ronaldo and other greats. The draws for some coaches brought relief and optimism while for others headache. Touchline UI aims to give you a feel of the Brazilian football climate in your denizen. We’ll take you from your room to the pitch to see you kick the Brazuca and not the Jabulani. This week we’ll be starting with Group F and here is the first one with Argentina and Iran.
GROUP F: THE ROMANCE THAT WOULD NOT END!
Argentina and Nigeria would once again rekindle their rivalry at the Group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. For the Super Eagles, it would be the fourth time in five appearances that they would be paired up against the South American giants having being in the same group in 1994, 2002 and 2010.They are joined by débutants Bosnia-Herzegovina and Asian side Iran.
-Nickname: La Albiceleste
–FIFA Ranking: 3rd
–Best Showing at the World Cup Finals: Winners in 1978 and 1986
–Coach: Alejandro Sabella
–Preferred Formation: 4-3-3
–Key Player: Lionel Messi. He’ll be hoping to the lead his beloved country to glory next year having underwhelmed in his first two attempts. There’s no doubt he’s one of the finest in world football when on form, and he’ll take extra care to be physically ready for Brazil having already succumbed to a number of injuries this year.
–Other Players to Watch Out For: Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Angel Di Maria, Ever Banega and Javier Mascherano.
–Route to Finals: First in CONMEBOL with 32points
- It’s obviously got to be the attack. The likes of Sergio Aguero,Gonzalo Higuain, Lavezzi, DiMaria, Erik Lamela and of course Lionel Messi; would strike fear into any opposition defence .Goal scoring should not be a problem for this side.
- The middle of the park led by the controversial Ever Banega is also strong. The favorable weather conditions could also be an advantage.
- Despite Sabella’s efforts to improve the central defence, it still remains the Achilles of this highly talented team. Even though the inclusion of Federico Fernedez to partner Garay has added some stability to the defence, pundits still feel they are prone to the occasional error and would suffer against the stronger sides in the tournament. Sabella once said about his defence in a qualifier match “Every time they headed towards my team’s goal, I had my heart in my mouth”.
- The full back positions is another cause of concern .Sabella, in a recent friendly against Bosnia even experimented with a backline of central defenders. Only Zabaleta looks assured. Maybe a recall of the evergreen Javier Zanetti could solve the problem temporarily.
- There are also problems in the goalkeeping department as shaky goalkeeper Sergio Romero is currently out of favor at Monaco and if that continues; match fitness could be a big issue. Orion his back-up does not inspire much confidence behind a problematic defence.
- Also, “Bad boy” Tevez who has not featured under Sabella is still a topic of discussion in the local press who ironically hold him high. A good season with the Old Lady and the outcry for his inclusion would probably break the Berlin wall.
–Sabella’s Reaction: “Ratings and predictions are difficult and I don’t like them, but if the ‘groups of death’ are a 10, I would say we were lucky because we avoided them… It’s a good group in terms of geography because we have two short trips and we also play a game in Belo Horizonte, which is where we will be based. To kick off at the Maracana makes us proud for what it signifies in both South American and world football. I’d be a hypocrite if I said Argentina weren’t the strongest team of the four, but football is the most illogical of sports. In general terms, I’m moderately optimistic”
–Group Chances: An easy draw and football fans would be shocked if they don’t top it. The attack should cover for whatever deficiencies they have at the defence line at this stage of the tournament. The last group match against Nigeria should be the pick of the group matches
–Head to Head against Group Opponents (W-D-L): 4-1-1 against Nigeria, 2-0-0 against Bosnia, yet to play against Iran.
–World Cup Odds:5/1
–Nickname: Team Melli Iran
–FIFA Ranking: 45th
–Best Showing at the World Cup Finals: Group Stage(1978,1998 and 2006)
–Coach: Carlos Queiroz
–Preferred Formation: 4-2-3-1
– Key Player: Reza Ghoochannejhad: Captain Javad Nekounam may be one of the most recognisable names on Iran’s team sheet thanks to his knack for a thunderbolt goal, but Ghoochanneljhad is the man who has truly solved the nation’s scoring woes. The Standard Liege striker, who was spotted at Sintt-Truiden by Queiroz in 2012, has scored eight goals in his last 11 apperances for the Persian Stars.
–Other Players to Watch Out For: Karim Ansari and Javad Nekounam
–Route to the Finals: First in Asian Qualifying Group A. Finished ahead of South Korea.
- In a typical Queiroz style, the side is solid and well drilled.
- The right flank boasts considerable talent in the form of Ashkan Dejagah and Mohammadreza Khalatbari, though the latter is rather unpredictable and doesn’t always win a starting role.
- The defensive unit, led by Seyed Jalal Hoseini, has recently welcomed two new additions but still looks as trusty as ever.
- Oueiroz counter-attacking philosophy which spectacularly failed in his stint as Portugal’s head coach suits the players at his disposal and has so far being effective.
- The level of fitness of this squad continues to ring tune.
- The depth is almost non-existent
- Creativity in midfield against bigger sides is very much a worry.
– Carlos Oueiroz’s Reaction: “I cannot give a number. The key will be in our preparation. If we work hard, we will have a good opportunity. If not, we won’t be in a position to take our chance. For us, qualification was hell, so being in this group now is like heaven. For my players, it should be an honour to play against these rivals and it is important they go out and enjoy every minute of every match, eager to make it to the second round. Facing Argentina at the Maracana? Let’s hope we can give Argentina a headache… Dreaming doesn’t pay the bills!”
– Group Chances: On paper, they should be the group’s whipping boys. Football has however thrown and would still throw upsets. Who says they can’t cause an upset here? On the other hand, they would most likely not better their record but could still be potential group spoilers. The first game against Nigeria is in all fairness not the most difficult of starts but if there is any team they should feel confident against, it should be Bosnia who they’ve never lost to. That said and done, it would be a shock if they don’t finish fourth.
–Head to Head against Group Opponents (W-D-L): 0-0-1 against Nigeria, 4-1-0 against Bosnia, yet to play against Argentina.
–World Cup Odds:750/1
Watch out for the preview on Nigeria and Bosnia tomorrow