Argentina v Iran – watch live on ITV1 at 5pm
Belo Horizonte will play host to one of the biggest mismatches of the 2014 World Cup so far on Saturday afternoon when the mighty Argentina go head-to-head with minnows Iran.
The word ‘mighty’ is apt for the South Americans – a side featuring Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria cannot be described as anything less – but Alejandro Sabella’s men do have something to prove on the back of their opening Group F game.
Indeed, on Sunday night Argentina were widely expected to draw a line in the Brazilian sand; they were expected to justify their lofty pre-tournament billing by dismantling World Cup debutants Bosnia-Herzegovina. But the European outfit hadn’t read the script.
It was a tough night – a very tough one, in fact – for La Albiceleste in Rio de Janeiro. Rather than us all tuning into an Argentinean production entitled the “Messi Show” it was more akin to a Bosnian broadcast entitled the “How-to-Stifle Messi Show”. Were you watching, Iran?
Nevertheless, it was the diminutive Barcelona man that produced the decisive moment in that match. The 26-year-old’s second half strike was right out of the top-drawer – a vintage Messi goal – and it earned his side a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Bosnia surprised many observers. For an hour of Saturday’s game they nullified their illustrious rivals. But even if Iran were watching, it has to be very doubtful that they will be able to replicate the tactics employed by Safet Susic’s charges with equal aplomb.
Carlos Queiroz’s side deserve plenty of credit for securing a 0-0 draw with Nigeria. The Persians didn’t simply park the bus – on the contrary, they looked the more likely winners for much of that fixture. However, this game will be one-way traffic – an easy win for Argentina is the only conceivable outcome.
If money to you is like coffee beans to Starbucks, and you’re average bet is tantamount to the value of a Mayfair flat, the 1/7 on offer with BetVictor about the Argentineans in the match result market would be a sound investment, dear chap.
For the rest of us, the 11/10 available with the same firm about Argentina -2 in the handicap betting is the recommendation – and a confident one at that.
Argentina -2 in the handicap betting – 11/10 (BetVictor)
Nigeria v Bosnia-Herzegovina – watch live on BBC1 at 11pm
Nigeria were widely expected to get off to a winning start against rank outsiders Iran in their first match of Group F, but the reigning African champions lacked cutting edge and were held to goalless draw.
Consequently, they really need to get something from Saturday night’s clash with Bosnia-Herzegovina to be in with a realistic chance of reaching the knockout phase, especially with Argentina next up.
However, the Super Eagles have been more akin to flightless birds in recent World Cups, losing six and drawing three of their last nine games in the tournament, and Stephen Keshi’s men are likely to struggle against a well-drilled Bosnian outfit in Cuiaba.
Safet Susic’s charges acquitted themselves with immense credit in their World Cup debut match against Argentina last weekend. When they fell behind due to an own-goal with just three minutes gone the writing appeared to be on the wall: this was going to be a baptism of fire.
They quickly steadied the ship, though, and it wasn’t until Lionel Messi produced a moment of magic in the sixty-fifth minute that the game appeared to beyond them. A late goal courtesy of Vedad Ibisevic crowned a fine performance from Bosnia; they lost 2-1, but lost no caste in defeat.
In addition to impressing with their solidity at the back and strength in midfield, the Golden Lilies were lively going forward, too. In fact, they produced 16 attempts, 11 of which were on target, against Argentina. Only one was converted against the South Americans, but that ratio is likely to be higher against Nigeria.
Indeed, I cannot envisage anything bar a comfortable victory for Susic’s men. The 10/11 generally available in the match result market looks pretty magnanimous on the bookies’ part, but the best bet is Bosnia to win to nil at 9/4 with Betfred.
Nigeria struggled to create clear-cut chances against Iran and, unless they raise their game a couple of notches this weekend, they will have no joy whatsoever up against a very efficient Bosnian defence.
Miralem Pjanic and Muhamed Besic were outstanding in the middle of the park against the Argentineans. Expect them to pull the strings against the West Africans in the Arena Pantanal.
Conversely, Edin Dzeko was never really in the hunt in that match, but the Manchester City striker will be desperate to make an impact against Nigeria and, at a tempting 4/1 with Ladbrokes, he’s worth backing to open the scoring.