World Cup preview: Group F

Sports Mole continues its World Cup previews with a closer look at Group F, which contains one of the favourites Argentina.

ARGENTINA

How they qualified: With Brazil's place already guaranteed at the World Cup as hosts, many felt that the Argentines had been given a clear run at top spot in the nine-team CONMEBOL group. It turned out that they would indeed advance as group winners, although after a 1-0 defeat to minnows Venezuela in the second game and then a 1-1 draw with Bolivia, it was not a smooth process early on. They then went on an 11-game unbeaten run, though, before losing to Uruguay having already booked their place in the main tournament.

Manager: Alejandro Sabella: In terms of managerial experience, Sabella will be one of the tournament's novices. Prior to accepting his current role, the former Sheffield United and Leeds United midfielder had just managed Argentine club Estudiantes, whom he guided to success in the Copa Libertadores and the Argentine Primera Division during his two-year stint. He was called upon by the Argentinian Football Federation following an unsuccessful 2011 Copa America campaign, with his first act being to appoint a certain Lionel Messi as captain.

Argentina head coach Alejandro Sabella shouts out orders on October 11, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Winners: 1978, 1986

Squad (provisional):

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

Defenders: Federico Fernandez (Napoli), Ezequiel Garay (Benfica), Martin Demichelis (Manchester City), Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Marcos Rojo (Sporting Lisbon), Jose Basanta (Monterrey), Hugo Campagnaro (Inter Milan), Nicolas Otamendi (Atletico Mineiro)

Midfielders: Fernando Gago (Boca Juniors), Ever Banega (Newell's Old Boys), Augusto Fernandez (Celta Vigo), Javier Mascherano (Barcelona), Angel Di Maria (Real Madrid), Lucas Biglia (Lazio), Maxi Rodriguez (Newell's Old Boys), Ricardo Alvarez (Inter Milan), Enzo Perez (Benfica), Jose Sosa (Atletico Madrid)

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

Three Key Players:

Lionel Messi: There are those that believe that if Messi is to be placed in the same bracket as Pele and his compatriot Diego Maradona, he must fire his nation to the World Cup, just as those two did during their careers. With the attacking talent alongside him, coupled with the fact that the tournament is being hosted in South America, the 26-year-old may not have a better chance to get his hands on the famous trophy. It's widely considered that 'The Flea' had his most disappointing season in a Barcelona shirt last term, what with injuries and confusion over his playing position, yet he still scored 41 goals in 46 matches.

Lionel Messi celebrates scoring for Argentina against Uruguay on October 12, 2012.© Getty Images

Sergio Aguero: Had Aguero not suffered a succession of muscular injuries during the second half of the season, there is every chance that Manchester City would have wrapped up the Premier League title much sooner than they actually did. Even allowing for those complaints, the explosive striker still found the net on 17 occasions in the Premier League and 28 times in all competitions. Alongside Messi and Gonzalo Higuain, it is unlikely that no nation will be able to boast a more potent front three than the Argentines.

Angel di Maria: The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale may have claimed the headlines as Real Madrid won their 10th European title, but the man of the match that night in Lisbon was Di Maria. Often starting on the left flank, the creative midfielder tends to float inside to link up with the attackers in the team. As discussed, Argentina have some of the best forward-thinking players that the tournament has to offer and Di Maria will be a key part of that.


BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA

How they qualified: A relatively new nation, it was hard to predict whether Bosnia would challenge towards the top end of their qualifying group, which contained the likes of Greece and Slovakia. They answered that question emphatically during their first two outings, thrashing Liechtenstein 8-1 before hitting Latvia for four. The Dragons eventually ended the campaign level on points with Greece, but advanced to Brazil as group winners because of their far superior goal difference. From their 10 matches, they scored 30 goals and let in just six.

Manager: Safet Susic: Three years ago, supporters and certain sections of the Bosnian media were calling for Susic's head - citing the fact that Bosnia had shown no signs of improvement since he took charge in 2009. The nation's Football Association kept faith with the 59-year-old, though, and he has gone on to repay them. Not only has he guided the country to their first ever World Cup, he's also overseen their rise up FIFA's world rankings.

Bosnia head coach Safet Susic stands on the touchline on February 06, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: N/A

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), Ervin Zukanovic (Gent), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros)

Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg), 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)

Three Key Players:

Edin Dzeko: No player has scored more goals for Bosnia than the Man City striker, who will be coming up against his teammates Aguero and Pablo Zabaleta in the group stages. Of his 35 goals at international level, 10 were scored during qualification for Brazil - only Manchester United and Holland frontman Robin van Persie scored more in Europe. The tall striker also heads into the tournament having played a key role in the final few matches as City secured the Premier League title.

Edin Dzeko celebrates scoring for Bosnia against France on October 11, 2011.© Getty Images

Miralem Pjanic: Even at the age of 24, Pjanic is an experienced international campaigner, so much so that if Bosnia progress beyond the group stages and he features in each match, he will surpass the 50-cap mark. The playmaker is the creative hub of the Bosnian side, for whom he tends to play in the lines between the midfield and Dzeko. The Roma player's ability from dead-ball situations could also prove to be a vital asset.

Asmir Begovic: While Bosnia were deadly in front of goal throughout the qualifying campaign, they were also built on solid foundations. Begovic, the country's undisputed number one goalkeeper, let in just six goals in 10 matches, proving that he and his defenders are well organised. The 26-year-old has also been in positive form at club level, having recently helped Stoke City to achieve their highest ever finish in the Premier League.


IRAN

How they qualified: A lengthy qualifying process for Iran started way back in July 2011 with a 5-0 aggregate victory in the second round over the Maldives. That was followed by a third round, which saw the Iranian Lions advance as group winners without losing any of their six encounters. Then, in a final group of five teams, Iran once again finished top, impressively ahead of South Korea, having conceded just two goals in eight fixtures.

Manager: Carlos Queiroz: Widely regarded to be one of the best coaches and trainers in world football, Sir Alex Ferguson credits Queiroz for a lot of the success that Man United had between 2004 and 2008. Following an unsuccessful spell in charge of his native Portugal, the 61-year-old was appointed to the Iran helm in 2011 with the challenge of guiding the nation to their fourth World Cup. He did just that, introducing a number of youthful talents into the squad along the way.

Iran national football team coach, Carlos Queiroz, arrives for the final draw of the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup, in Costa do Sauipe, Bahia state, Brazil, on December 6, 2013© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Group stages: 1978, 1998, 2006

Squad (provisional):

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

Defenders: Khosro Heidari (Esteghlal), Hossein Mahini (Persepolis), Steven Beitashour (Vancouver Whitecaps), Pejman Montazeri (Umm Salal), Jalal Hosseini (Persepolis), Amir Sadeghi (Esteghlal), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Zob Ahan), Ahmad Alenemeh (Naft), Hashem Beikzadeh (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Sepahan), Mehrdad Pooladi (Persepolis)

Midfielders: Javad Nekounam (Al Kuwait), Andranik Teymourian (Esteghlal), Reza Haghighi (Persepolis), Ghasem Hadadifar (Zob Ahan), Bakhtiyar Rahmani (Foolad), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (NEC Nijmegen), Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham)

Strikers: Masoud Shojaei (Las Palmas), Mohammad Reza Khalatbari (Persepolis), Mehdi Sharifi (Sepahan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (Charlton), Karim Ansarifard (Persepolis, on loan at Tractor Sazi), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan)

Three Key Players:

Ashkan Dejagah: Having represented Germany at youth level, it was expected that Dejagah would go on to turn out for them as a full international. The call never arrived, though, and he was eventually persuaded to commit his future to the country of his birth by Queiroz. Since then, the Fulham midfielder has proved himself to be a key member of the team, weighing in with important goals and assists. Following Fulham's relegation to the Championship, Dejagah may well be looking to use the World Cup as the best setting to put himself in the shop window.

Ashkan Dejagah of Iran during their 2015 Asian Cup group B qualifying football match on November 15, 2013© Getty Images

Javad Nekounam: He may turn 34 in September, but skipper Nekounam is the undoubted star of the Iranian side. The former Osasuna midfielder may well have reached his veteran years, but that doesn't stop him from producing energetic displays. What's more, only three players have scored more than the 37 goals that Nekounam has fired in for his country. His importance was highlighted in the qualification process, where he scored six times to end the campaign as Iran's leading goalscorer.

Reza Ghoochannejhad: He may not have been prolific since arriving at Charlton Athletic back in January, but scoring goals for Iran has not been a problem for Ghoochannejhad. The 26-year-old only made his debut back in October 2012, but has since gone on to find the net nine times during his 11 appearances, including scoring the only goal of the game during the impressive 1-0 win over South Korea last year. Like Dejagah, the frontman was convinced by Queiroz to play for Iran following a spell representing another country at youth level - in his case Holland.


NIGERIA

How they qualified: As one of 52 African entrants, the CAF World Cup qualifiers have a tendency to throw up a surprise or two, with a least one big name usually missing out. On this occasion it will be Senegal that are forced to watch the tournament at home, but Nigeria will be in Brazil. They eased through unbeaten from a group that also included Malawi, Kenya and Namibia, before defeating Ethiopia 4-1 over two legs to secure their place in Brazil.

Manager: Stephen Keshi: Having played for the Super Eagles at a World Cup, Keshi will now take his country there as a manager. He was given the responsibility in 2011 following stints in charge of fellow African nations Togo and Mali. The 52-year-old made an immediate positive impact, guiding the team to the Africa Cup of Nations, which made him only one of two men to have won that competition as both a player and a coach. The last time Nigeria had got their hands on that trophy was back in 1994.

Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi stands on the touchline on March 23, 2013.© Getty Images

Previous World Cup best: Last 16: 1994, 1998

Squad (provisional):

Goalkeepers: Vincent Enyeama (Lille), Austin Ejide (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Daniel Akpeyi (Warri Wolves), Chigozie Agbim (Gombe United)

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

Midfielders: John Mikel Obi (Chelsea), Ramon Azeez (Almeria), Ogenyi Onazi (Lazio), Joel Obi (Parma), Nnamdi Oduamadi (Varese), Ejike Uzoenyi (Enugu Rangers), Nosa Igiebor (Real Betis), Sunday Mba (Bastia), Reuben Gabriel (Waasland-Beveren), Michael Babatunde (Volyn Lutsk)

Strikers: Ahmed Musa (CSKA Moscow), Shola Ameobi (Newcastle), Emmanuel Emenike (Fenerbahce); Obinna Nsofor (Chievo Verona), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke), Michael Uchebo (Cercle Brugge), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Uche Nwofor (Heerenveen)

Three Key Players:

Vincent Enyeama: There may not be a more in-form goalkeeper in Brazil than Enyeama, who shone between the posts in France for Lille last season. He kept a highly impressive 21 clean sheets and in total let in just 26 goals during his 38 appearances. As a result, the 31-year-old became the first ever goalkeeper to win Ligue 1's African Footballer of the Year award. With 88 caps to his name and experience of two World Cup tournaments, Enyeama is an influential figure within the Nigerian dressing room.

Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama in action for Nigeria on February 6, 2013.© Getty Images

John Mikel Obi: He may not be a regular starter under Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, but that shouldn't deflect from his importance for Nigeria. In the Premier League, Mikel has forged himself a reputation as a holding midfielder that tends to sit in front of the back four. However, Keshi is often keen to give the 27-year-old more freedom to express himself, which in turn allows Mikel to get involved with attacks further up the pitch.

Emmanuel Emenike: A centre-forward with great power and pace, if Nigeria are to go further than the group stages, they will need Emenike to fulfill his goalscoring potential. He rejoined Turkish side Fenerbahce from Spartak Moscow for a reported £11m last summer and went on to score a respectable 12 goals from his 28 outings, as well as laying on nine assists. He was also Nigeria's leading goalscorer as they negotiated their way through qualifying for this World Cup.


Group F fixtures (KO UK time)

Sunday, June 15
Argentina vs. Bos-Herce, 11pm

Monday, June 16
Iran vs. Nigeria, 8pm

Saturday, June 21
Argentina vs. Iran, 5pm
Nigeria vs. Bos-Herce, 11pm

Wednesday, June 25
Bos-Herce vs. Iran, 5pm
Nigeria vs. Argentina, 5pm

Sports Mole says: 1. Argentina 2. Bosnia 3. Nigeria 4. Iran

Brazil's Neymar celebrates his goal against Spain during the Confederations Cup on June 30, 2013
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