Any team with a Lionel Messi on its side will surely be a contender, so Argentina is highly picked to top Group F.
Add to Argentina’s roster Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, and Angel Di Maria, who have shown impressive performances with their Euro clubs, and you have a formidable team that is expected to bounce back from a quarterfinals exit in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Messi and company were shut down by Germany in the Round of 8, 4-0, dropping Argentina to fifth place.
With Argentina a shoe-in for one of the two spots to the next round, Nigeria, Iran, and World Cup first timer Bosnia-Hersegovina are left to battle for the remaining slot.
Nigeria has the slight advantage over its two other foes, record-wise, having reached the Round of 16 twice (1994 and 1998) and having made it to the World Cup for the fifth time. The presence of Chelsea star John Obi Mikel and Nigeria’s title win in the African region fortify the Eagles’ chances to march into the next round.
Bosnia-Hersegovina could be the team standing on Nigeria’s way past the group stage, as the World Cup debutant was impressive during the qualifier. The newcomer won eight of its 10 matches and lost only once, posting the fourth most goals (30) in the European zone. Bosnia-Herzegovina has quick, young, and persistent players that can cause problems for Nigeria.
Iran is the dark horse in Group F with its roller-coaster performance during the qualifier. Iran, one of the stronger teams in Asian zone, is hoping that with former Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz now calling the shots for the squad, the Iranians will past the group stage.
France is favored
After faltering in the group stage in 2010, France is expected to make it to the next round and top Group E, too.
The throng of Euro leagues players on France’s roster and arrival of Didier Claude Deschamps in 2012 make the Les Bleus the team likely to place first in its bracket despite the higher ranking of Switzerland. The Swiss is the top-ranked team in Group E at No. 8, but the squad has yet to win the Cup, while the No. 16-ranked France did it in 1998. Joining the two Euro zone teams are Central America’s Honduras and South America’s Ecuador.
Switzerland topped the Group E of the Euro zone qualifying with its unbeaten record (7-3-0) and is best remembered for beating eventual champion Spain, 1-0, during the group stage in 2010.
Honduras was also in South Africa, was bracketed with Switzerland, Spain, and Chile, and bowed out of the group stage. Back then, Honduras had an ageing lineup, but this year, fresher legs are suiting up for the Los Catrachos.
Ecuador finished a strong fourth in the South American qualifying with its 7-4-5 slate, beating Uruguay in the goal difference point and the La Tricolor will bank on that strong showing to make it past the Round of 16, their best finish so far in three World Cup appearances. Ecuador has a nice mix of experienced and youth players.