South American Giants and two-time World Champions, Argentina and World Cup Debutants, Bosnia and Herzegovina make up the rest of the Group F.
For the two sides, the primary target would be to advance from the Group that has African Champions, Nigeria and Asia’s Number One Side, Iran completing the pool.
For Argentina, that won’t represent a success as the aim would be World Cup Glory and what better place to do it than the home of their Eternal Rivals, Brazil.
Should they triumph, it would be their first since 1986 when Maradona led them to success in Mexico and would also cement Messi’s place as the best in the game.
Qualification to the Next Round for Bosnia would however represent a success for a Country still recovering from war and with an unemployment rate of 25%. It’s their début and Susic men would want to make a long-lasting impression in Brazil.
3 BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
NICKNAME: Zmajevi( Dragons)
CAPTAIN: Emar Spahic
FIFA RANKING: 21st
MOST CAPS: Zvjezdan Misimovic (82)
MOST CAPS (CURRENT SQUAD): Zvjezdan Misimovic (82)
MOST GOALS: Edin Dzeko (35)
MOST GOALS (CURRENT SQUAD): Edin Dzeko – 35 goals in 62 appearances for his Country
FIFA WORLD CUP APPEARANCES: This is their first appearance at the World Cup Finals
BEST PERFORMANCE AT THE FINALS: None
HEAD COACH: Safet Susic
PREFERRED FORMATION: 4-2-3-1/ 4-1-3-2
KEY PLAYER: Edin Dzeko
Dzeko is the man who leads this team. He finished second in the European qualifiers with 10 goals. The 28 year old is not the fastest of Forwards but he’s one of the best Finishers around.
He’s also coming off the back of a good end to the season with Manchester City and found the back of the net in their 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.
He has won 62 caps and plundered 35 goals while for the Citizens, He scored 26 goals and assisted a further 16 in 48 matches.
Bosnia, a country of less than four million individuals would hope the Manchester City Forward brings such fearsome form to Brazil and fire the Dragons to the next Round.
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Asmir Begovic, Miralem Pjanic, Senad Lulic and Vedad Ibisevic
ROUTE TO FINALS: Topped Group G in the UEFA Qualifying Section with 25 Points. The Dragons finished ahead of Greece on Goal Difference.
Susic has got Bosnia playing with attacking intent and with the natural goal-scorers in Dzeko and Ibisevic; they look a threat every time they head towards the opposition goal.
In the Qualifiers, the Dragons scored 30 goals in 10 games with Dzeko amassing ten (second highest in Europe) and Strike Partner, Ibisevic hitting eight.
With this attacking threats and Pjanic also deadly from the set pieces, goal-scoring is one thing Susic would not have to deal with at the World Cup.
They also a highly technical side and could be lethal in possession.
Against teams like Nigeria and Iran, expect the Dragons to go for the juggernaut.
They have talent in the midfield; Pjanic is a very good passer but it’s from the dead ball situation that he’s a deadly weapon, Lulic of Lazio is hardworking and is equally creative.
Misimovic, the Bosnian Captain and chief playmaker is also adept at his position.
Against defensive teams like Iran, having this talent in midfield could just be the key.
In Stoke’s Begovic, they’ve got an outstanding and experienced shot-stopper
For all the talent up front, the defence still remains very much of a worry. The team does not have World Class players in that department and could struggle against Argentina and to a lesser extent, Nigeria.
In the Qualifiers, despite being in the same Group as goal-shy Greece and the likes of Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Liechtenstein offering little or no threat, they still conceded six goals.
This is Bosnia’s first World Cup appearance and for all the Players, this is a new territory which most of them could be overwhelmed by the occasion.
The likes of Dzeko, Pjanic and Lulic should be able to deal with the pressure. Unfortunately, that’s just the few that play top-tier Football which means the World Cup could be a rude exposure to the inexperienced and untested players in their ranks.
IMBALANCE IN THE MIDFIELD
For all the talent in the midfield, Bosnia unfortunately has no one who can offer protection to a vulnerable defence.
Defeats against Argentina and Egypt exposed the flaws of a lack of defensive midfielder.
Teams like Argentina with a fearsome attack would have a free-ride to the defence
“Having seen the other groups, we can be satisfied. We don’t need to be unhappy, even though we share the group with Argentina, who are one of the favorites to win the world championship. Of the other teams, one is clearly weaker than us: Iran. The other, Nigeria, has in the worst-case scenario the same qualities we have, although they have more experience in World Cups. I believe we will fight for the second place with them”
They’ll be happy with the draw and would be optimistic of their chances of qualifying. Victories over Ivory Coast and Mexico in their warm-up matches would suggest that they are ready for Brazil and they shouldn’t be taken lightly by their Group Opponents.
Against Argentina, expect the Susic to ditch his 4-1-3-2 in favor of a 4-2-3-1 Formation to counter the attacking threat of Sabella’s men. A defeat would not harm their chances at that stage but a point or even a victory won’t be bad either.
Against the Super Eagles, expect a more attacking Bosnia side. The game should be the most important for the two sides because any side that wins would have a greater chance of progressing,
Against Iran, they’ll go for the broke in order to boost their Goal Difference Margin. Interestingly, they’ve never beaten Iran in any competitive match.
Overall, I expect them to fight for a second place finish with Nigeria which means their game against the Super Eagles would most likely determine their fate.
They should not have problems finding the back of the net but stopping the goals at his end is a riddle Susic has to solve.
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD AGAINST GROUP OPPONENTS ( W-D-L) – 0-0-2 against Argentina, 0-1-4 against Iran, yet to play the Super Eagles of Nigeria.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP:
- GOALKEEPERS: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka) and Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen)
- DEFENDERS: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic ( Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke 04), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros) and Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg)
- MIDFIELDERS: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Harjovic (Galatasaray), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Senad Salihovic (Hoffenheim) ,Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor) and Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk).
- FORWARDS: Vedad Ibisevic (VFB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) and Edin Visca (Instanbul BB)
WORLD CUP ODDS: 150/1
NICKNAME: La Albiceleste
CAPTAIN: Lionel Messi
FIFA RANKING: 5th
MOST CAPS: Javier Zanetti (145)
MOST CAPS (CURRENT SQUAD): Javier Mascherano (97)
MOST GOALS: Gabriel Batistuta (56)
MOST GOALS (CURRENT SQUAD): Lionel Messi (37 goals in 85 caps till date)
FIFA WORLD CUP APPEARANCES: This would Argentina’s 15th appearance at the Mundial with their first in 1930.
BEST PERFOMANCE AT THE WORLD CUP FINALS: Winners in 1978 and 1986
HEAD 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.
He’s not had the best of the seasons but for Argentina and especially under Sabella, since he’s become the Captain, he’s looked more like the Player we see at Barcelona.
If He rediscovers his best form, then Argentina chances of a third World Cup would be strengthened.
World Cup Success for the Whites and Sky Blues would reinforce the argument of Messi being the greatest of all time.
Over to you Leo!
OTHER PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR: Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero,Javier Masherano and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
ROUTE TO FINALS: First in CONMEBOL Qualifying Section with 32 Points
The trio of Gonzalo Higuain, Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi are on paper the best attacking trio of any team going to the World Cup. They’ll be the envy of most sides in Brazil and for the opposition defence, the worst nightmare.
They also have PSG’s Lavezzi and Inter’s Palacio; the former, a tricky player who can score but most importantly deadly from the set pieces and the latter, Inter’s top Forward.
They are all coming on the back of fantastic seasons;Higuain scored 24 goals and assisted 12 in 46 games, Kun found the back of the net 28 times and assisted a further 14 in 34 games,Palacio finished with 19 goals and 8 assists in 39 appearances, Lavezzi, 12 goals and 7 assists in 48 appearances while the chief attacking threat, Lionel Messi, despite having an average season thanks to the high standards he’s set, finished with 41 goals and 15 assists in just 46 appearances for Barcelona.
The front three is supported by Real Madrid winger- cum midfielder, Angel Di Maria. He also plays as the Advanced Playmaker in the 3 man midfield of Argentina.
He ended what was an excellent season for him with 12 goals and 26 assists in 52 matches.
They form the “Los Cuatro Fantasticos”-the Fantastic Four.
Favourable weather conditions and easier travel schedule could be an advantage in terms of fitness and support.
This department is still the suspect of the highly talented team despite efforts by Sabella to make it more stable.
It should not be troubled by the sides in the Group but if La Albiceleste wants to go far, then attention must be paid to the back line or the bigger sides would expose the frailties.
The full back positions are also far from secure with only Zabaleta looking the assured one
Despite Wily Caballero being a first choice Goalkeeper for Malaga, Sabella still decided to call-up Sergio Romero who made only 9 appearances with 3 in League for Principality Side, Monaco.
He could potentially be a weak link as he’ll go to Brazil short of match fitness and confidence.
Orion, his backup does not inspire much confidence behind a vulnerable back line.
Against the smaller sides, Argentina’s attacking force would ensure that the imbalance in the attack and the midfield is not exposed but against the likes of Brazil, Spain and Germany, they could easily be overrun in the midfield and that would be down to the fact that they’ve only one natural ball winner, Javier Mascherano
The team’s default is to attack but when they are prevented from doing that, the back line and the weak midfield won’t hold the bigger sides at bay.
“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 qualify as Group Winners.
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 RECORD AGAINST GROUP OPPONENTS: (W-D-L): 4-1-1 against Nigeria, 2-0-0 against Bosnia, yet to play against Iran.
ARGENTINA’S SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP:
- GOALKEEPERS: Sergio Romero(Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania) and Agustin Orion(Boca Juniors)
- DEFENDERS: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez( Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Hugo Campagrano (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City)and 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) and Enzo Perez (Benfica)
- FORWARDS: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan) and Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris Saint Germain).
WORLD CUP ODDS: 9/2