Nickname: La Albiceleste
FIFA Ranking: 5 / Elo Ranking: 4
Qualified: CONEMBOL (S. America) 1st Place
Appearance: 16th - Best Finish: Champions (1978 as hosts, 1986)
Head Coach: Alejandro Sabella (ARG)
Running the gauntlet that is South American qualifying is never easy, but Argentina largely made it look easy. They complied a 9W-2L-5D record in eighteen games, with their only real blemish a loss at Venezuela. Their only other loss was at Uruguay on the final day of qualification when Argentina had already clinched a World Cup spot and the top spot in the overall table.
Argentina dominated just about everything, with several lopsided scores like a 5-2 win at Paraguay, a 4-0 win vs. Ecuador and 4-1 vs. Chile. Argentina scored 35 goals, tops in qualification, while only allowing 15, second only to Colombia’s 13.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Javier Mascherano, MID, Internazionale (ITA) – The Inter midfielder can do it all in the center of the pitch, and will be a key part of the Argentinian formation, either as a center mid or a holding mid.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Lionel Messi, ST, Barcelona (SPA) – Yeah, I know, shocking (and a cop out) but am I wrong? He’s only scored once in the World Cup previous to the 2014 tournament (vs. Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 as an 18 year old) and Argentina’s about as talented as anyone in the field. But you still have to think they’ll go as far as Messi can carry them.
SEND OFF MATCHES
They’re not only the favorites to win the group, but the entire tournament as well. Just about everyone in their starting lineup is entering their prime and it’s not just Messi you have to worry about. The fullbacks Zabaleta and Rojo get forward constantly, Sergio Aguero is another world class striker. It is staggering that this team hasn’t been to a semifinal since a runner-up performance at Italy in 1990. I expect that to change this tournament.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME (2-1 Win vs. BIH)
Probably couldn’t have asked for a better result than what Argentina got. A quick start via an own goal against Bosnia, Messi tallied in the second half and Argentina wins it’s hardest game of the group despite conceding a late goal to make it interesting.
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINIA (BIH)
Nickname: The Dragons
FIFA Ranking: 21 / Elo Ranking: 24
Qualified: UEFA (Europe) Group G 1st Place
Appearance: 1st - Best Finish: N/A (Competed as part of Yugoslavia from 1930-1990)
Head Coach: Safet Susic (BIH)
Paired with Greece, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania and Liechtenstein, Bosnia rolled through qualification racking up an impressive 30 goals in the process. Finishing tied with Greece with identical 8-1-1 records, their superior goal difference would carry them into the automatic qualification as Group G’s winner, forcing Greece into the playoff round. While scoring at a rate of three goals a game, Bosnia only conceded a total of 6 goals in ten games, bested only by Greece’s 4 goals allowed. Edin Dzeko (10), Vedad Ibisevic (8) and Zvjezdan Misimovic (5) were the top three scorers in the group.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Vedad Ibisevic, ST, Stuttgart (GER) – You’ll probably hear Ibisevic’s name more often because he played college soccer at St. Louis University and spent part of his youth growing up in St. Louis as well. He’s also a pretty good scorer, with 21 goals in 56 international caps and 33 goals in 71 games with Stuttgart since transferring in 2012. Strike partner Dzeko plays for Manchester City in the EPL.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Asmir Begovic, GK, Stoke City (ENG) – Begovic is a solid keeper, and one of the reasons why Bosnia is considered such a huge dark horse is not only their goal scoring talent, but their shot-stopper as well.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Win 2-1 vs. Ivory Coast, Win 1-0 vs. Mexico
This is another team that is stacked with younger talent, so the dark horse potential is there. The problem with the European qualifying is that almost half of your games are assumed to be gimmies, so it’s hard to judge just how good this team is. They are very young defensively aside from captain Emir Spahic and his 75 international caps. They have a favorable group draw but a second round matchup with France seems likely now.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME (Loss 1-2 to ARG)
I can’t say that I’m surprised that they lost to Argentina, but they fought until the end and clawed back a goal to make things interesting. Odds are they could qualify for the knockout stages with two positive results, a win and a draw in their final two games against Iran and Nigeria, but this is a team that might want to build a little confidence and win those final two games.
Nicknames: Honour of Persia, Persian Lions
FIFA Ranking: 43 / Elo Ranking: 33
Qualified: AFC (Asia) Fourth Round, Group A Winners
Appearance: 4th - Best Finish: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2002)
Head Coach: Carlos Queiroz (POR)
MLS CONNECTION: Steven Beitashour, DEF, Vancouver Whitecaps (CAN)
Actually, it’s was a fairly impressive run for Iran in qualification, as they went unbeaten in Asia’s third round with a 3-0-3 record against Qatar, Bahrain and Indonesia to win Group E. In the fourth round, paired with South Korea, Uzbekistan, Qatar and Lebanon, Iran went 5-2-1 for 16 points and also good enough to finish in the top spot. Iran swept South Korea home and away both on 1-0 wins as Korea finish second in the group.
PLAYER YOU SHOULD KNOW: Javad Nekounam, MID, Al-Kuwait (KUW) – The 33-year old captain has already amassed 141 international caps and 37 goals. If Iran has any chance at getting out of the group, they’re going to need a big performance from him in the center of the midfield.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Ashkan Dejagah, MID, Fulham (ENG) – The winger who has made 43 appearances in all competitions with Fulham over the last two years, Dejagah could be the best attacking weapon Iran has, and they’ll need him to getting on the score sheet a lot if they want to get out of the group.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Draw 0-0 vs. Belarus, Draw 0-0 vs. Montenegro, Draw 1-1 vs. Angola, Win 2-0 vs. Trinidad and Tobago
For a country that has one win in their World Cup history (against the United States in 1998), just getting a couple of results could be a positive tournament for them. The biggest game will be the first against Nigeria, because if they can scratch out a win, they’ll have a much better chance of trying to get one result versus Argentina and Bosnia.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME
A lackluster 0-0 draw was not exactly how they wanted it to go, especially being out-possessed and out-shot by Nigeria. Now the task gets that much harder, they have to find a way to beat Argentia or Bosnia to get out of the group. I fear it will be a short tournament for Steven Beitashour and company.
Nickname: Super Eagles
FIFA Ranking: 45 / Elo Ranking: 30
Qualified: CAF (Africa) Group F Winners, Defeated Ethiopia 4-1 in aggregate playoff
Appearance: 5th - Best Finish: Round of 16 (1994, 1998)
Head Coach: Stephen Keshi (NGA)
Drawn into Group F as the top seeded team, Nigeria went unbeaten at 3-0-3 to win the group that included Malawi, Kenya and Namibia. While not exactly a dominant performance, scoring only seven goals, it did advance Nigeria to the playoff round where they defeated Ethiopia, the lowest ranked team to win their group, 2-1 and 2-0 in the aggregate playoff to qualify the Super Eagles for their fifth tournament out of six since their debut in 1994.
PLAYER WHO NEEDS TO BE HUGE: Emmanuel Emenike, FWD, Fenerbahce (TUR) – If he’s starting up front, he’s got to score. Nigeria isn’t a team that scores a lot, so the lone striker is going to be tasked with carrying the scoring load while the defense protects any lead they can get.
SEND OFF MATCHES
Draw vs. Scotland 2-2, Draw vs. Greece 0-0, Loss vs. United States 1-2
The Super Eagles might be an African power, but that hasn’t translated to the World Cup in recent years. They didn’t qualify for Germany in 2006 and they failed to get out of their groups in 2002 and 2010 or register a win in either of those tournaments. They burst onto the scene in the 90s, but they just don’t seem to be as threatening despite their talent.
AFTER THE FIRST GAME
Like Iran, a draw didn’t help them all that much. They’ll still need to find a way to register a win now against Bosnia or Argentina and that’s not going to be easy. Can the Super Eagles find that win against Bosnia and finish second in the group? Sure, but I don’t think it’s happening.
June 15 – Argentina 2, Bosnia and Herzegovina 1
June 16 – Iran 0, Nigeria 0
June 21 – Argentina vs. Iran, 12PM EST, ESPN, Belo Horizonte
June 21 – Nigeria vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6PM EST, ESPN, Cuiaba
June 25 – Nigeria vs. Argentina, 12PM EST, ESPN, Porto Alegra
June 25 – Bosnia and Herzegovina vs. Iran, 12PM EST, ESPN2, Salvador
PREDICTIONS 1) Argentina 2) Bosnia and Herzegovina 3) Nigeria 4) Iran
It’s pretty simple here I think, Argentina and Bosnia are the two best teams (Argentina already beat Bosnia) and now it’s just a simple matter of the two top teams getting the job done. Nigeria and Iran will be tough opponents to break down but I think after Argentina and Bosnia net their first goals, more will come.