The World Cup is less than 100 days away. We’re almost there.
In the meantime, soccer fans can continue to just sit back and enjoy the exciting races to the finish line in the Premier League, La Liga and the Champions League.
Playing a big role in two of those exciting finishes is the best player in Group F – Argentina’s Lionel Messi. Wait. I mean the best player in the world.
Debatable? Yes. Likely to be true? Yes. Cristiano Ronaldo has been on fire recently, winning the Balon d’Or over Messi as well as moving Real Madrid into first place ahead of Barcelona in La Liga. And did you see what he did to Schalke’s defense in the Round of 16 first leg?
But enough about him, this is about Argentina. Group F isn’t a particularly exciting group on paper, but it is sure to see a lot of goals; mostly from Messi’s squad.
The little guy is back in full force after nagging injuries kept him out periodically over the last year, and he will be looking to build on his 2010 World Cup goals tally of… zero? Yes, it was a disappointing tournament by Messi’s standards in South Africa, but his team did manage to make it to the quarterfinals.
Argentina comes in at No. 3 in the world and one of the strongest favorites to win the World Cup this time around. The near-unstoppable Messi is sure to score at least one goal when June and July come around. If he doesn’t, I’ll be very confused.
But it’s not ALL about him. The Argentine defense might not be one of the strongest in the world, but their offense may just be second to none. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria have been building their resumes and spreading the Argentine influence all over the world’s top leagues, from France to Spain to England. They are likely starters on just about any club in the world.
Javier Mascherano has the ability to play anywhere on the defensive side, and his talent in the midfield is a key asset that has earned him consistent playing time on a stacked Barcelona team. Argentina should have one of the easiest roads to the second round with Messi and friends running the show.
The rest of the group is where things get interesting. Bosnia-Herzegovina comes in at No. 17 in the world for its first ever World Cup appearance after finishing atop a qualifying group that included Greece.
The sizable Edin Dzeko of Manchester City is a scoring machine that has tallied 33 goals in 59 caps for his national team, and paired with Vedad Ibisevic, we should see some great striker play here. Roma’s young star Miralem Pjanic will need to make his presence known in the midfield with a below-average defense behind him, but his side is lucky to be in a group where Iran and Nigeria are all that’s standing between them and the knockout stages.
Rounding out the group are No. 38 Iran and No. 47 Nigeria. The Nigerians have shown that they aren’t chumps when it comes to international play, making it as far as the 2008 Olympic final (which they happened to lose to Messi and Argentina). Lille goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama captains this scrappy team and carries with him one of the more bizarre statistics for any at his position – a career tally of 18 goals.
A squad that lets their goalkeeper take their penalties obviously has a great team mentality. When you’ve come this far and the stakes are this high, you’ll take any kind of advantage you can get.
In the midfield, John Obi Mikel comes in from Premier League leading Chelsea to provide a strong, stable force and keep his team on balance. Newcastle United’s Shola Ameobi also provides EPL talent for his country after recently earning a starting role on the team.
Iran may be a leading candidate to finish last in this group, but for this team, led by midfielder Javad Nekounam, it would not be too surprising to see them pick up a win or two in the first round. Fulham’s Ashkan Dejagah gives Iran its only Premier League player, providing speed and talent on the wing.
With a nice balance between veteran players and youth, the Iranians need only to play together and they will have a shot at advancing.
It will be fun to see which team will accompany Argentina to the second round, but at this point, I would have to put my money on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s offensive prowess possibly even winning them the group.
I just want to see one goal, Messi. At least one.