2014 Fifa World Cup: Guide to Argentina's Group F

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Team Profile: Argentina

ARGENTINA (seeded)

How do they play?

Style & formation: Argentina often fielded a bold 4-3-3 formation in qualifying, although a more conservative 5-3-2 was deployed for tricky away fixtures. The former system allows Lionel Messi to find space between the lines while Manchester City's Sergio Aguero and Napoli's Gonzalo Higuain stretch play.

But with Angel Di Maria deployed as part of a midfield three, the formation offers little defensive protection. Coach Alejandro Sabella admits "we are not a team who attack based on possession or order - we are an anarchic team, with very anarchic players."

Strengths: Incomparable firepower. Between them, Argentina's five strikers have 124 goals this season - all for top clubs. Their front three are supported by Angel Di Maria, forming "Los Cuatro Fantasticos" - the Fantastic Four. On paper, no other side in Brazil can rival that attacking talent. And with all three group games in Brazil's south, they'll get plenty of away support, plus easy travel and cool weather.

Weaknesses: The same, fundamental flaw that ended their 2010 campaign - the team lacks balance, as coach Alejandro Sabella openly admits. Against elite opposition they can't rely on Javier Mascherano to be their only midfield tackler, yet they don't have another ball-winner in his class.

Keeper Sergio Romero made just three league appearances for Monaco this season and could be a weak link. Lionel Messi's recent club form is also a legitimate concern - despite scoring 41 times for Barcelona in 2013-14.

Lionel Messi

Key player

Often accused of failing to reproduce his Barcelona form at international level, Lionel Messi had gone 16 competitive matches without scoring prior to the appointment of Alejandro Sabella in 2011. However, the coach's decision to hand Messi, 26, the captaincy has proved inspired - he scored 10 times in 14 World Cup qualifiers.

One to watch

Messi's role is pivotal, but Angel Di Maria defines the team shape. He's a winger shoe-horned into a midfield three as a playmaker but has the stamina and discipline to make it work. Also used deeper by Real Madrid at times this season, he recorded 17 La Liga assists - the highest figure in the top five European leagues.

The boss

Alejandro Sabella earned his chance after guiding Estudiantes to victory in the Copa Libertadores in 2009. Prior to that he had spent nearly 20 years as assistant to Daniel Passarella. He was part of Argentina's backroom team at the 1998 World Cup.

How they qualified

Easily. They were the only side to win in Colombia, beat Chile twice, and impressed in home victories against Uruguay (3-0) and Ecuador (4-0). A first ever defeat by Venezuela, home draw with Bolivia and meaningless final-game loss to Uruguay were rare blips.

World Cup record

They have twice won the tournament (1978 and 1986) and have finished runners-up on two other occasions. But they have not reached the semi-finals since 1990.

Fifa ranking: 5

Squad

Argentina
Possible starting XI

Goalkeepers: Sergio Romero (Sampdoria), Mariano Andujar (Catania), Agustin Orion (Boca Juniors).

Defenders: Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), 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), Enzo Perez (Benfica).

Forwards: Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Gonzalo Higuain (Napoli), Sergio Aguero (Manchester City), Rodrigo Palacio (Inter Milan), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Paris St-Germain).

BOSNIA-HERCEGOVINA

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Team Profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina

Prospects

Despite being the only World Cup debutants, Bosnia are odds-on with most bookies to reach the last 16 thanks to their attacking firepower and technical ability.

Their cavalier tactics in qualifying - a 4-4-2 diamond - yielded 30 goals, 18 from strike duo Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic.

While the squad is overflowing with playmakers, it lacks effective ball-winners to screen the defence. Expect them to change formation against Argentina but go for the jugular against Nigeria and Iran.

Edin Dzeko
Edin Dzeko ended the season in fine form for Premier League champions Manchester City

Key player

One of the best players in Serie A this season, Roma's Miralem Pjanic turned down Luxembourg and France to represent the country he left just before war broke out. He's a technically gifted dead-ball specialist capable of spectacular goals, but with veteran Zvjezdan Misimovic in favour as Bosnia's 'number 10', Pjanic operates from deep or out wide.

The boss

Voted the best player in Paris St-Germain's history, Safet Susic represented Yugoslavia at the 1982 and 1990 World Cups. He says of his cavalier approach: "We know that we expose ourselves too much and that there is a huge risk in the way we play - but that is the price we are willing to pay. In the end, we play to score more goals than the opposition, and it has paid off so far."

How they qualified

Beaten in the play-offs by Portugal in their previous two qualifying campaigns, the Bosnians were determined to top their group this time round. They edged out Greece on goal difference following a final-game win in Lithuania.

World Cup record

They will be the only debutants at the 2014 World Cup.

Fifa ranking: 21

Squad

Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen).

Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic (Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg).

Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk).

Strikers: Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB).

IRAN

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World Cup team profile: Iran

Prospects

Iran are Asia's highest ranked team but are the outsiders in Group F, although few will relish facing them. They were dour and defensive in qualifying, with 10 clean sheets - the most of any side in Brazil. But their build-up is often slow and predictable and they were desperately short of cutting edge in recent friendlies against Belarus and Montenegro (both 0-0) and Angola (1-1). A bizarre squabble over badly fitting training kit does not bode well either.

Key player

Midfielder Javad Nekounam, 33, is captain and talisman, but the new golden boy is Reza Ghoochannejhad - Charlton's Iran-born, Dutch-raised forward.

The 26-year-old made his international debut last year and scored six goals in as many games in 2013.

The boss

Carlos Queiroz has been outspoken in his criticism of Iran's Football Federation, which he described as "lethargic, lacking ambition" when he took over in 2011. Despite resistance from conservative elements, he has called up several players who grew up outside of Iran, including USA-born Steven Beitashour. Portugal's coach in 2010, he has praised the passion of Iranian fans but admits he doesn't have a "magic wand" to solve the side's flaws. He will leave his post after Brazil.

How they qualified

Having made serene progress in the early stages, Iran's qualifying hopes were in jeopardy after managing just two goals and two wins in their opening five matches of the final group stage. But they ended the campaign with three successive victories, latterly beating South Korea away to top the group.

World Cup record

Iran have failed to progress from the group stage in their three appearances (1978, 1998, 2006), with their only win coming against the USA in 1998.

Fifa ranking

43

Squad

Goalkeepers: Daniel Davari (Eintracht Braunschweig), Alireza Haghighi (Sporting Covilha, on loan from Rubin Kazan), Rahman Ahmadi (Sepahan).

Defenders: Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir-Hossein Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Mehrdad Pouladi (Persepolis).

Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Kuwait SC), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Haddadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiar Rahmani (Foolad), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan).

Forwards: Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham), Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Tractor Saz, on loan from Persepolis), Khosro Heydari (Esteghlal).

NIGERIA

Prospects

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World Cup team profile: Nigeria

After failing to qualify for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, the Super Eagles have undergone a radical transformation under Steven Keshi, who has sought to lower the average age of the squad. His selection policy, at times controversial, has paid off - last year the Super Eagles won their first African title since 1994. They produced a competent showing at the Confederations Cup, but improvement is needed to reach the knockout stages in 2014.

Key player

Victor Moses has quickly become an integral figure since making his debut in 2012. He provided real cutting edge at this year's Africa Cup of Nations and was sorely missed at the Confederations Cup, for which he was injured.

The boss

Sacked as Togo coach a few months before the 2006 World Cup and likewise as Nigeria assistant in 2002, Stephen Keshi richly deserves the chance to finally test his managerial mettle on the grandest stage of all. He is considered a father figure by many players, but has had to fend off repeated criticism over his controversial focus on selecting youngsters ahead of bigger names. His contract expires after Brazil.

How they qualified

Easily. One of two unbeaten African sides (along with Ivory Coast), they ended five points clear in their group, then beat Ethiopia 4-1 in a play-off. They scored 11 goals - fewer than any other side who booked their place in Brazil.

World Cup record

The Super Eagles reached the last 16 in 1994 and 1998 but fell at the first hurdle in their two subsequent tournament appearances (2002 and 2010).

Fifa ranking: 44

Squad

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United).

Defenders: Elderson Echiejile (Monaco), Efe Ambrose (Celtic), Godfrey Oboabona (Rizespor), Azubuike Egwuekwe (Warri Wolves), Kenneth Omeruo (Middlesbrough), Juwon Oshaniwa (Ashdod), Joseph Yobo (Norwich, on loan from Fenerbahce), Kunle Odunlami (Sunshine Stars).

Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk).

Forwards: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Victor Moses (Liverpool, on loan from Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen).

Fixtures

15 June 2014

Argentina v Bosnia-Hercegovina, Estadio do Maracana, Rio de Janeiro, 23:00 (BBC)

16 June 2014

Iran v Nigeria, Arena da Baixada, Curitiba, 20:00 (BBC)

21 June 2014

Argentina v Iran, Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, 17:00 (ITV)

21 June 2014

Nigeria v Bosnia-Hercegovina, Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba, 23:00 (BBC)

25 June 2014

Nigeria v Argentina, Estadio Beira-Rio, Porto Alegre, 17:00 (ITV)

25 June 2014

Bosnia-Hercegovina v Iran, Arena Fonte Nova, Salvador, 17:00 (ITV)

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