Group F

Lionel Messi scores brilliant match-winner in Argentina’s 2-1 win over Bosnia & Herzegovina

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A Lionel Messi gem was enough to hand Argentina a 2-1 victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina at The Maracana in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening.

After a Sead Kolasinic own-goal in the 3rd minute handed Argentina a 1-0 lead, all things were even heading into the second stanza where a beautiful, weaving run by Messi was capped by a calm left-footed finish from 18 yards out.

With a 2-0 lead in hand, Argentina eased off the gas and were punished for it when a sensationally slipped pass by Senad Lulic found Vedad Ibisevic, who cooly finished past Sergio Romero. As B&H pushed for a winner it was Argentina who came closest to scoring again before the final whistle blew handing La Celeste a crucial 2-1 victory to go tops of Group F.

Things began fast when Mensur Mujdza‘s crushing tackle sent Sergio Aguero flying to the turf. Messi’s ensuing free kick from 25 yards out curled in beautifully for Argentina defender Marcos Rojo, who nicked the ball onto the left knee of defender Kolasinic, who could only watch as the ball dribbled into the net.

B&H then settled in with Zvjezdan Misimovic providing some brilliant play-making ability, cutting open the middle of the pitch and finding Izet Hajrovic over the top only for the winger to hesitate and have his effort saved by Romero. A minute later and it was Misimovic again, this time embarrassing Javier Mascherano and earning a free-kick that Miralem Pjanic fired into the wall.

Despite conceding the own-goal, Kolasinac more than made up for it with some sensational defense, giving Pablo Zabaleta and Messi headaches on multiple attacks up the right side. It was an uninspiring performance from Edin Dzeko, who was largely invisible but for a turning 33rd minute strike that flew well over the goal. Eight minutes later and the Dragons came closer, this time through Lulic who’s near post header was sublimely saved by Romero.

Heading into the half-time 1-0 up but under-performing, Argentina needed to shake things up and coach Alejandro Sabella wasted no time doing so, disposing of his five-man backline by removing center-back Hugo Campagnaro in favor of midfielder Fernando Gago and replacing midfielder Maxi Rodriguez with forward Gonzalo Higuain.

With the 4-3-3 formation that Argentina are more familiar with La Celeste caught fire as a 55th minute break saw Messi find Aguero, who mishit his right-footed shot high and wide. By now, though, Argentina was clicking with Messi finding space in the midfield and Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria flying up the pitch.

In the 58th minute it was Hajrovic reeking havoc on Marcos Rojo, juking the left-back before sending in a teasing cross for Lulic that caught Romero off the line only for Federico Fernandez to head away from danger. Two minutes later, it was Argentina’s turn and the improving Messi found Aguero on the right side of the box but his right-footed effort was ripped right into the hands of Begovic.

In the 64th minute Messi spurned an excellent opportunity when he put his left-footed free kick 20 yards over the bar from 30 yards out. Things were looking bleak for the Barcelona sensation but 30 seconds later he proved why he is one of the greatest ever players. Picking up the ball 10 yards in front of midfield Messi dispatched a clever outside-of-the-foot pass that Higuain brilliantly flicked back to La Pulga, who had his sights set on net.

By the time B&H center back Ermin Bicakcic realized it, he stepped up only for Messi to pull the ball left, sending Bicakcic sliding into Besic. With the pathway clear, Messi dispatched a low, carefully placed left-footed strike from 18-yards out that banked off the left post and into the net. The Maracana erupted with a Messi fist-pump clear evidence of a monkey off his back.

Credit to B&H, they didn’t put their heads down and coach Safet Susic went into the most attacking lineup possible, bringing on winger Edin Visca to replace the fantastic Hajrovic, forward Ibisevic for Mensur Mujdza while captain Zvjezdan Misimovic was then removed for Haris Medunjanin.

In the 82nd minute Messi picked the ball up in his defensive third and his 80 yard dribble found Aguero on the right but his cross was snuffed out by a sliding Spahic. Three minutes later, lax defending by Argentina allowed B&H to cut the lead in half. Lulic pushed forward on the dribble and when no one challenged, he slipped a sneaky pass around Fernandez that Ibisevic latched on to and put a subtle touch around Romero.

With six minutes left B&H continued to push forward compelling Argentina to sub Aguero off for Lucas Biglia, adopting a more defensive shape. With The Dragons pushing hard for the equalizer it was La Celeste that enjoyed the better chances with Messi coming closest off the counter in the 93rd minute, only to hit the side netting.

All in all it was a great win for Argentina against a tricky B&H side but one that Sabella will want to see vast improvements upon if his side are to make a deep run in this World Cup.

LINEUPS

Argentina – Romero; Rojo, Garay, F. Fernandez, Campagnaro (Gago 45′), Zabaleta; Di Maria, Mascherano, Rodriguez (Higuain 45′); Messi, Aguero (Biglia 87′).

Goals: Kolasinac, OG (3′) Messi (65′)

Bosnia & Herzegovina – Begovic; Kolasinac, Spahic, Bicakcic, Mujdza (Ibisevic 69′); Besic, Hajrovic (Visca 71′); Lulic, Misimovic (Medunjanin 74′), Pjanic; Dzeko.

Goal: Ibisevic (84′)

At halftime: Kolasinic own goal hands Argentina early 1-0 lead – FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: A third minute own goal by Sead Kolasinic gave Argentina the 1-0 lead but Bosnia & Herzegovina then settled in, controlling large portions of the match.

With a five man back line, Argentina should be getting more action from their wing backs but Marcos Rojo and Pablo Zabaleta have found their attacks foiled by strong defensive displays by Bosnia & Herzegovina. In fact, the better offensive displays have come from the wing play of B&H, who managed 12 first half crosses through the impressive Senad Lulic and Miralem Pjanic.

Lionel Messi & Co. have been stifled through the middle where B&H’s holding pair of Muhamed Besic and Izet Hajrovic have been strong, laying some thumping tackles. If the Barcelona man is to leave his mark on this game his second half approach will have to differ, meaning we could see him n more advanced positions and floating out on he wings.

Make no mistake about it though, B&H is still very much into this match. Could we see a second half double for the Dragons to do the impossible?

FOLLOW LIVE: Soccerly’s real-time match center

Goals:

3′ – After Mensur Mujdza flew in on Sergio Aguero, fouling the Manchester City striker on the left side of the pitch, Lionel Messi stepped to the free kick from 30 yards out, sending in a lovely left-footed curling effort into the 6 yard box. Marcos Rojo rose above Emir Spahic to nick on to the far post, paralyzing Sead Kolasinic who’s left knee knocked the ball into his own net. Own goal.

Other key moments:

13′ – Zvjezdan Misimovic cutting up the middle of the pitch, skips by Javier Mascherano and provides a sensational ball over the top to Izet Hajrovic, who was unable to get by Argentine goalkeeper, Sergio Romero.

14′ – Misimovic again on the ball and working Mascherano, gets fouled for a free-kick from 25 yards out that Miralem Pjanic fires into the wall.

20′ – Pablo Zabaleta barrels down the right wing but it’s B&H left-back, Sead Kolasinac, flying in with a brilliant slide tackle the rips the ball of Zabaleta.

21′ – Messi skips through the midfield and into the box but Kolasinac isn’t fooled, laying a thumping tackle that gets all ball leaving the Barcelona man looking flustered.

32′ – Mascherano rips a right-footed shot from 25 yards out but it’s right at Asmir Begovic, who bats it down and out of the way.

33′ – Edin Dzeko gets his first touches on the ball but it’s a quick turn shot from 22 yards out that flies well over the bar.

41′ – Senad Lulic loses his man to win the corner and his near post header is sublimely saved by Romero, who tips the shot just wide of the post.

LINEUPS:

Argentina – Romero; Rojo, Garay, F. Fernandez, Campagnaro, Zabaleta; Di Maria, Mascherano, Rodriguez; Messi (c), Aguero.

Goals – Kolasinic (OG) 3′

Bosnia & Herzegovina – Begovic; Kolasinac, Spahic (c), Bicakcic, Mujdza; Besic, Hajrovic; Lulic, Misimovic, Pjanic; Dzeko.

Key players:

  • Zvjezdan Misimovic – The playmaker for B&H, he cut open Javier Mascherano on at least two occasions, playing lovely through balls to Izet Hajrovic and drawing fouls.
  • Sead Kolasinac – The 20-year-old left-back, who represented Germany youth level before rejecting a senior international career with Joachim Low’s side in order to accept a call-up from Bosnia-Herzegovin, conceded the own-goal but played well besides that, proving himself to be a no-nonsense, hard tackling defender, who shows little fear of Messi and Aguero.
  • Pablo Zabaleta – In Argentina’s 5-3-2 formation, Zabaleta is effectively playing as a right wing and while he’s getting forward the left side of B&H’s defense is proving difficult to unlock.
  • Lionel Messi – Having a lot of trouble through the center of the park with Kolasinac and holding midfielder Besic working hard to double up on him with every touch.

Numbers to know:

90% – Pass completion rate of Argentina, compared to 77% by Bosnia and Herzegovina.
243 – Number of total passes completed by Argentina
12 – Number of crosses by Bosnia and Herzegovina, compared to Argentina’s two.
3 – Minutes it took for Argentina to score the nation’s third quickest World Cup goal ever.

Questions for the second half:

  • Can Messi step up to the pressure? Messi has been unimpressive so far, struggling to create through the middle and finding himself in some tough tackles around the outside of the box. In the second half, he’ll need to find more space and create off the diagonals.
  • Can Bosnia and Herzegovina take their chances? The Dragons are not going to get in often on Argentina so when they do, they must take their chances. So far Hajrovic, Pjanic, Dzeko and Lulic have all had glimpses but only the latter really forced Romero to prove himself up to the task.

Game on: Argentina face Bosnia and Herzegovina in Group F blockbuster

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An incredible opening three days to this World Cup is capped off by a gem of a match between title-hopefuls, Argentina, and long-shot darlings, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

For today’s match Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella has opted for a 5-3-2 formation that expects to feature high-flying wing-backs in Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo. In the midfield sit the defensive stalwart Javier Mascherano alongside the lightning quick Angel Di Maria and the precise Maxi Rodriguez. They’ll support the wing backs flying forward while Lionel Messi will sit just inside Kun Aguero, where he will playmake as well as finish from attacks in the channnels.

For B&H,  Safet Susic has his side in a 4-2-3-1 with the holding pair of Muhamed Besic and Izet Hajrovic tasked with shutting down the center of the pitch while one of the most complete midfielders in the world, Miralem Pjanic will look to create space and provide service for the towering Edin Dzeko up top.

[ MORE, Previews: Argentina| Bosnia & Herzegovina | Group F]

[ MORE, Soccerly: Preview | Follow live ]

Starting lineups:

Argentina – Romero; Rojo, Garay, F. Fernandez, Campagnaro, Zabaleta; Di Maria, Mascherano, Rodriguez; Messi (c), Aguero.

Bosnia & Herzegovina – Begovic; Kolasinac, Spahic (c), Bicakcic, Mujdza; Besic, Hajrovic; Lulic, Misimovic, Pjanic; Dzeko.

Talking points:

1. Can Messi step up and meet the pressure? The conversation continues to divide opinion – is Lionel Messi the greatest ever footballer to walk the planet? Most say ‘yes’ based simply on what he has won at club level and, simply, witnessing his incredible movements on the pitch. Others, however, complain that to be considered the best ever, you have to win the World Cup. Now at the age of 26-years-old and with an above average supporting cast around him, Messi is in the perfect position to do just that. The pressure to do so is immense and it all begins today, against Bosnia & Herzegovina.

2. Is Bosnia & Herzegovina this tournament’s dark horse? Over the last few weeks many have tipped Bosnia & Herzegovina to be the dark horse of this World Cup. To achieve that status a team needs to advance out of the Group Stage, and, before being eliminated, knock off one of the giants in world football. Taking down Argentina would certainly qualify. To make that happen players like Edin Dzeko, Miralem Pjanic and Asmir Begovic will have to enjoy the tournament of their lives. But for a team that’s been through hell and back, few are denying they have what it takes to be this summer’s darling.

Expectations: Expect goals. If Argentina has a weakness it’s in defense while B&H is a more balanced side. This tournament has had more than its fair share of goals so far and on Sunday evening, we should expect nothing but the same.

One blogger’s prediction: Should be a barnstormer of a match with both squads on full-blooded, end-to-end attacks. Bosnia and Herzegovina will impress but look for Argentina to leave their stamp on this tournament right away. Messi with a brace, Argentina with a 1-2 goal victory.

 

2014 World Cup team preview: Nigeria

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Getting to know…Nigeria: Nigeria have qualified for five of the last six World Cups and have twice qualified for the Round of 16 (1994 and 1998). The Super Eagles have also enjoyed success in the African Cup of Nations, winning the tournament three times, most recently this past winter. Coached by Stephen Keshi, Nigeria utilize a defensive style that looks to over-power teams on the counter-attack. All things flow through John Obi Mikel, who plays in a more advanced role for his country and playmakes for wingers Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa, as well as the highly-rated Emmanuel Emenike.

Record in qualifying: Nigeria went undefeated in qualifying out of Group F, taking 12 points in six matches off of Malawi, Kenya and Namibia before defeating Ethiopia in both matches of the two-leg playoff.

What group are they in?: Group F with Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Iran

Game schedule:

16 June, 16:00, Curitiba – Iran vs. Nigeria
21 June, 18:00, Belo Horizonte – Nigeria vs. Argentina
25 June, 13:00, Salvador – Nigeria vs. Bosnia & Herzegovina

Star player: John Obi Mikel

At times maligned at Chelsea, Obi Mikel is hailed in Nigeria. A massive presence, Obi Mikel is strong in the tackle but enjoys the balance of having smooth technique. For Nigeria, Obi Mikel is the playmaker who can provide pinpoint passes to release the weapons around him. Look for him to play higher up the pitch for his country, where he won’t think twice about shooting from distance. When Obi Mikel plays well, Nigeria plays well.

source: Getty ImagesManager: Stephen Keshi

Named African Coach of the Year in 2013 after willing his team to victory in the African Cup of Nations. A defensive tactician who sets up his sides to explode on the counter, Keshi gets the most out of his side’s youth, pace and hunger. Despite his success, Keshi’s experience with the national team has undergone a number of issues in the past including player disputes and claims of unpaid wages. If Nigeria are to succeed this summer, Keshi must ensure any such issues are buried before getting on the plane to Brazil.

Secret weapon: Emmanuel Emenike

The 27-year-old Emenike is a bit of a late bloomer, having earned his initial call-up to the national team just three years ago while playing with Spartak Moscow. Since then his career has flourished as Emenike scored four goals during the 2013 African Cup of Nations to help the Super Eagles hoist the title. Now at Fenerbahce, Emenike is coming off a strong season having scored 12 goals in 28 appearances. Look for Emenike’s blazing speed and direct style of play to serve as target man for Nigeria’s high-paced counter-attacks. Built like a bull, he loves to tangle with opposing defenders, rarely loses battles, and has a blistering shot.

Prediction: Nigeria faces stiff competition from Bosnia & Herzegovina as to who will finish second in the group behind Argentina, setting up what should be an epic final match day in Group F. Look for Nigeria’s youth and athleticism to give them the edge over B&H but advancing beyond the Round of 16 feels unlikely for the Super Eagles.

2014 World Cup team preview: Iran

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Getting to know…Iran: This is the fourth World Cup for Iran (1978, 1998, 2006), who have yet to make it out of the Group Stage and have won only one of the nine matches they’ve played in the tournament (a 2-1 victory over USA in 1998). This side, managed by 61-year-old Portuguese manager Carlos Queiroz, are a defensively staunch group that at times puts 10 players behind the ball to absorb pressure before trying to nab opponents on the counter. Of the 32 teams in the World Cup, the Persian Stars are pegged by many to finish at or towards the bottom but not if players like Jalal Hosseini, Javad Nekounam, Ashkan Dejagah and Reza Ghoochannejhad have anything to say about it.

Record in qualifying: Qualified first in Group A of Asian Football Confederation, beating out South Korea for the top spot. In eight matches, Iran took 16 points, scoring eight goals and conceding only two.

What group are they in?: Group F with Argentina, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Nigeria

Game schedule:

16 June, 16:00, Curitiba – Iran vs. Nigeria
21 June, 13:00, Belo Horizonte – Argentina vs. Iran
25 June, 13:00, Salvador – Bosnia & Herzegovina vs. Iran

source: APStar player: Javad Nekounam

The 33-year-old defensive midfielder plays his club ball at Al-Kuwait SC and brings a wealth of international experience (140 caps) to the side. After a strong performance in the 2006 World Cup, Nekounam was in-demand throughout Europe and signed with La Liga outfit Osasuna where he would spend six seasons registering 149 appearances and 24 goals. Since then the powerful destroyer enjoyed a two year spell at Esteghlal before transferring to Kuwait this past January. A possession-based player who relies on simple short passes and combination play to charge forward, Nekounam captained Iran through World Cup qualifying by scoring four times, including the winner against South Korea to secure the top spot in AFC.

Manager: Carlos Queiroz

Perhaps best known as Sir Alex Ferguson’s trusted assistant at Manchester United, Queiroz has managed Iran since 2011. He became coach of the Persian Stars after spending two years as boss of Portugal, with whom he brought to the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup. Queiroz is known for his defensive, counter-attacking system, and is a well-traveled manager having coached a variety of international and club sides including Sporting Lisbon, South Africa, New York MetroStars, Nagoya Grampus Eight and Real Madrid, among others.

Secret weapon: Ashkan Dejagah

Premier League fans will be familiar with Fulham’s rampaging winger (above, right), who left his mark on numerous matches this season by scoring a number of impressive goals. Powerful, pacy and possessing a vicious shot, Dejagah is a game-changer in the truest sense of the word. With Iran’s formation and scheme, expect Dejagah to occupy the right wing where his teammates will look to spring him on the counter-attack. Look for Dejagah to link up with Ghoochannejhad as the side’s lone striker or to simply over-power opponents on his own and have a go. Don’t be surprised if the World Cup serves as a stage for the 27-year-old to be snapped up by a top-tier club as Fulham settle for life in the Championship.

Prediction: A point would be an achievement. Getting out of the Group Stage, a miracle. At best Iran could snag a 0-0 draw with Nigeria or Bosnia & Herzegovina but look for Argentina to make the Persian Stars their whipping boys.