The World Cup’s first game at the newly built Maracana, where the final will take place in under a month’s time, sees Lionel Messi’s Argentina take on a revitalised Bosnia side.
Argentina go into the tournament as one of the main contenders for the crown, and it is not hard to see why, with the attacking options they have at their disposal. The only thing missing in Messi’s career is a polished World Cup campaign, with the Barcelona man failing to deliver his best in 2010. If he performs to the level we know he can then there could be no stopping this Argentina team, backed up by the likes of Aguero, Di Maria and Higuain who have all had fantastic seasons at their respective clubs. On South American soil they will be a major threat and they will be desperate to take maximum points from a relatively generous group, starting with their opener on Sunday.
The Bosnians however sailed through qualification, and will relish an encounter such as this one, in their first World Cup appearance. Edin Dzeko will lead the line, and Bosnia will be relying on his goals if they are to progress from Group F, but they will also need big performances from their other talented players, such as Roma’s Miralem Pjanic and the youngster Besic who is definitely one to watch. Bosnia will play with freedom and confidence, with craft and guile in their midfield players likely to cause problems to a weak Argentinian defence. Safet Susic has produced a hard working team who could spring a few surprises in Brazil, but with an opening fixture against a formidable Argentina, they will have to produce a faultless performance if they are to stand any chance of getting a result from this game.
KICK-OFF: Sunday, 11pm
ARGENTINA: Group F team profile
ARGENTINA: Group F team profile
1/5 How they qualified
Argentina won the CONMEBOL, ahead of Radamel Falcao’s Colombia and Alexis Sanchez’s Chile. La Albiceleste had trouble getting a result against Venezuela and beating Bolivia, albeit after a 4-1 thrashing of Chile at the opening game. However, the team managed to bounce back with a 2-1 win against Colombia which initiated a 14-match unbeaten streak that led them to the top of the table, even though they fell short against Uruguay in the end. This is the third time Argentina have won the preliminary competition, amassing nine wins and five draws in 16 matches. After setting the pace, the two-time World Cup winners had no problem finishing first whilst tallying 35 goals and only surrendering 15.
Alejandro Sabella faced quite a lot of scrutiny over bad results in the early stages of the CONMEBOL. However, he managed to restore trust at the end of the qualifiers and is now aiming for at least the semi-finals. The former Leeds United player is a manager that insists on team unity and with a Copa Libertadores under his belt he might be looking for an impressive World Cup run.
3/5 Star Player
Lionel Messi – Who else? Albeit a season that included injuries, the 26-year-old managed to score 28 La Liga goals and finish second on the goal scoring table. He is still La Albiceleste’s deadliest weapon that knows how to convert almost all of his chances. With his manager’s full support and Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero on his side, the Barcelona striker could finally be on track for World Cup glory.
4/5 Emerging Talent
Although Ezequiel Lavezzi is 29-years-old, he will be playing in his first ever World Cup. The winger’s impressive shooting skills and speed contributed greatly in Paris Saint-Germain’s second consecutive League title and will be much needed for Argentina’s quest for glory.
5/5 How they will line up: (4-3-3)
Romero; Rojo, Fernandez, Basanta, Zabaleta; Mascherano, Di Maria, Gago; Aguero, Higuain, Messi.
PAST TWO MEETINGS…
Argentina 2 Bosnia 0, International Friendly, November 2013
Argentina 5 Bosnia 0, International Friendly, May 1998
In Bosnia’s last 18 matches, they have won 14, only losing four times and drawing once.
Argentina have only lost once in their last 15 games.
Bosnia have never scored against Argentina.
Argentina have the World Cup’s oldest squad, with an average age of 28.9
Argentina are the only team in the World Cup who do not have a single player in their squad below the age of 24.
Argentina to win: 1.44
Bosnia to win: 9.00
TV: Live on BBC One at 11pm