Know Your Enemy: Iran/Group F

Messi-Argentina
Argentina
To the relatively odd background of the Iranian FA offering Argentine legend and former NT manager Diego Maradona a sizeable cash sum to don the Iranian national Jersey during their upcoming game at the World Cup we take a look at their most formidable of opponents.

I could write a whole paragraph about Leo Messi. Or I could just link one of the myriad YouTube videos in honour of the living legend. But that would be doing a disservice to Alejandro Sabella’s side who are a far cry from the circus that was the squad in the previous World Cup. Argentina finished top of their South American qualifying group, with 32 points, scoring 35 goals in the process. Sabella recognised that teamwork was key, and that defence is a relatively good idea, they had the second best defensive record in their group. With the wealth of talent this squad boasts and their recent performances including a recent 2-0 victory over closest group rivals Bosnia and Herzegovina, we can safely say they will win this group with relative ease.

You what? Messi is injured? Even if that injury were to carry on for all eternity, the likes of Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero et al will be more than apt to make light work of their group.

“It’s been a positive draw” said Sabella. In Sunday League speak this is roughly translated as: “We’re going to destroy this group”

Verdict: Queiroz will be hoping Iran don’t end up on the wrong side of a hiding. Bad rather than ugly would do.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

There was much bluster from Asia & Africa with regards to World Cup first timers, but it is Europe who have provided us with the only World Cup virgins. Population 3.8 million, and one of the poorest countries in Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina are at first glance minnows. But they managed to top a group including the disquietingly ubiquitous Greece to make it to their first World Cup directly.

Interestingly, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first International match was against Iran in 1993, the game played in Tehran ended 3-1 in favour of the away side. While this was a non FIFA recognised friendly, the relatively recently founded National side have come on since then.

While this is their first qualification for a major tournament, they are expected to join Argentina in qualifying, a rare accolade given the many World Cup first timers who have struggled in recent years. Especially given  this is Team Melli’s 4th appearance and no one is giving them a look in.

This Bosnia an Herzegovina team has quality all over the pitch, and strength in depth. The likes of Dzeko, Pjanic, Lulic, Begovic, Mujdza all play high level football and the manager Safet Sušić has no qualms with shifting up his tactics.

One question remains above all though, how will they really cope with their first major tournament?

Verdict: Bosnia, while World Cup debutants, are a very accomplished side. Expect a narrow defeat for Iran, but don’t be too surprised if the West Asians manage to get something from this one.

Nigeria

Reigning African champions Nigeria are on paper the weakest of the foes that Iran will have to face. Nevertheless this is a young European based side with some outstanding players and a point to prove.

Stephen Keshi has managed to make this Nigeria side worth talking about after their dire showing in the 2010 World Cup. All this he has achieved while at war with a shockingly unprofessional FA. How long the unity and cohesion he has managed to mould in the squad is anyone’s guess. The Nigerian FA has managed to sack 3 of the last 5 managers that have helped the Super Eagles reach major finals on the eve of those very finals.

This fixture will be the second ever for both sides. Iran & Nigeria met for the first and only time in Hong Kong in 1988 with Nigeria coming out 1-0 winners in that one. This one will be a rare collectors item and not necessarily because it may be a classic.

Whilst Nigeria are well balanced they are very beatable and Iran really should go into this one with a win on the mind, not least to try and silence the ever cheery Nigerian band (we do love that band). Especially considering it is the group opener, and a loss for either team all but ends their hunt very very early on.

Verdict: The African champions will be Iran’s most straightforward test, that says a lot. Expect a close game that is the most likely to yield points for Team Melli.

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