World Cup: African hopes rest on them

2014-06-01 15:00

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Nigeria and Argentina square off yet again

Nigeria’s Super Eagles have qualified for the Fifa World Cup for the fifth time in the last six tournaments but they haven’t reached the knockout stages since France 1998.

Group F will feature one match that has become something of a classic fixture and five that have never been played on the big stage before. Part of the reason is because Bosnia-Herzegovina are making their World Cup debut, while Iran have only ever faced their group rivals in friendlies.

Argentina and Nigeria, the other combatants, know each other well. Their meeting next June will be the fourth in an exciting rivalry. They have faced off in the Under-20 World Cup in 2005, the gold medal match at the 2008 Beijing

Olympics and in the group phase at South Africa 2010, with Argentina winning all three.

The teams

Not much hasn’t already been said about two-time world champions Argentina or, for that matter, Lionel Messi, who will renew his bid to lift the World Cup trophy.

Alejandro Sabella’s men are favourites to top a group in which experienced African champions Nigeria and free-scoring Bosnia-Herzegovina will probably do battle for second spot. Minnows Iran will hope to combine solid organisation with their trademark technical attributes.

Players to watch

Lionel Messi and Sergio Agüero (Argentina), John Obi Mikel and Victor Moses (Nigeria), Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibiševic (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Reza Ghoochannejhad and Javad Nekounam (Iran).

Crunch match

Bosnia-Herzegovina vs Nigeria. With Argentina

expected to win the group, games such as this will be crucial in deciding who goes through to the last 16.

Bosnia-Herzegovina will have to perform under novel circumstances, while the Super Eagles will be eyeing their first knockout phase appearance since France.

A look back

Argentina 2-1 Nigeria, June 1994 25, Boston: This game, which will forever be remembered as Diego Maradona’s last international match, pitted an Argentina side packed with stars like Claudio Caniggia and Gabriel Batistuta against a Nigeria team featuring the likes of Rashidi Yekini and Finidi George. Nigeria took the lead through Samson Siasia, only for Caniggia to hit back with a fine brace.

Did you know?

Bosnia-Herzegovina played their first official match in 1995 and came close to making their World Cup debut in South Africa, but lost out in the play-offs to Portugal.

The stat

36 – The number of years since Argentina and Iran met for the only time to date. That match, which ended in a 1-1 draw, formed part of Real Madrid’s 75th anniversary celebrations in Madrid in 1977.

Ivory Coast won’t coast through this group

Didier Drogba will lead his country into action at the Fifa World Cup in Brazil for the last time, bringing an end to an impressive career.

The Elephants will be hoping he can bow out in style.

Arguably the most open and difficult to predict of the eight sections, Group C involves four teams with no shared Fifa World Cup history whatsoever.

What can be guaranteed is an intercontinental clash of styles, with Colombia’s South American flair going up against teams – Japan, Ivory Coast and Greece – which typify their own regions’ traditional strengths.

The teams

Colombia are the group’s seeds and will be favourites to advance, while Japan come into the tournament as Asian champions. But such is the nature of this group it would hardly be a sensation if Ivory Coast or Greece – or both – ended up making it through.

Players to watch

Radamel Falcao and James Rodríguez

(Colombia), Georgios Samaras and Konstantinos Mitroglou (Greece), Yaya Touré and Didier Drogba (Ivory Coast), Keisuke Honda and Shinji Kagawa (Japan).

The crunch match

Ivory Coast vs Japan: The battle between Asia and Africa, the intricacy of the Samurai Blue pitted against the pace and power of Les Elephants, looks sure to provide a real footballing feast when these teams meet in Recife in their opening fixture. A win for either side would be a huge step towards the round of 16.

A look back

Japan 0-1 Colombia, June 22 2003, Saint-Etienne.

With hosts France already safely through from their 2003 Fifa Confederations Cup section, Colombia and Japan knew that only the winners of their final group match would advance to the tournament’s knockout stage. The Asian champions had their chances, most notably when Naohiro Takahara’s header hit the woodwork, but Los Cafeteros ultimately sealed the win thanks to Giovanni Hernández’s 68th-minute header.

“Japan were top-notch opponents and that makes this win even sweeter,” said then coach Francisco Maturana. Colombia were then beaten by Cameroon in the semifinal in which Marc-Vivien Foé tragically died.

Did you know?

None of these four teams have ever been beyond the round of 16 and only Colombia and Japan have successfully negotiated the group phase. Records, though, are made to be broken and all four will be out to prove they have what it takes in Brazil.

The stat

0 - The number of previous World Cup encounters between the teams involved in Group C. The highest-profile meeting came in the Confederations Cup duel between Colombia and Japan.

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