Nigeria Team Preview

The Players

Vincent Enyeama (captain) goalkeeper, Lille

Joseph Yobo defender, Norwich City

Uwa Elderson Echiéjilé defender, Monaco

Reuben Gabriel midfielder, Waasland-Beveren

Efe Ambrose defender, Celtic

Azubuike Egwuekwe defender, Warri Wolves

Ahmed Musa forward, CSKA Moscow

Peter Odemwingie forward, Stoke City

Emmanuel Emenike forward, Fenerbahce

10 Mikel John Obi midfielder, Chelsea

11 Victor Moses midfielder, Chelsea

12 Kunle Odunlami defender, Sunshine Stars

13 Juwon Oshaniwa defender, Ashdod

14 Godfrey Oboabona defender, Caykur Rizespor

15 Ramon Azeez midfielder, Almería

16 Austin Ejide goalkeeper, Hapoel Be’er Sheva

17 Ogenyi Onazi midfielder, Lazio

18 Michael Babatunde midfielder, Volyn Lutsk

19 Uche Nwofor forward, Heerenveen

20 Michael Uchebo forward, Cercle Brugge

21 Chigozie Agbim goalkeeper, Gombe United

22 Kenneth Omeruo defender, Middlesbrough

23 Shola Ameobi forward, Newcastle United

Star man

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As hard as it may sound for Chelsea fans, Mikel John Obi was the creative force behind last year’s Africa Cup of Nations triumph in South Africa. Having been hailed as the successor to Jay-Jay Okocha a decade ago, the 27-year-old had become used to being ridiculed in his homeland for an increasingly defensive approach. All has now been forgiven and – free from the constraints of José Mourinho’s bus – Mikel’s big moment may have arrived.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Celtic’s Efe Ambrose was sent off against Burkina Faso but the likelihood as ever with Nigeria is the government, or FA, shooting themselves in the foot and alienating the players by withholding payments or making asinine knee-jerk condemnations

The coach.

Known as The Big Boss, Keshi is reminiscent of a middle-aged Obi-Wan Kenobi for possessing an unwavering belief in his own ability. The decision to resign within 24 hours of the Africa Cup triumph before performing a U-turn showed the sort of balls required to survive repeated battles with the prickly NFF.

Grudge match

Drawn for the second time against Argentina, Nigeria will be looking to improve on a pair of timid 1-0 defeats in their final Group F match in Porto Alegre. The opening match against Iran will also carry an interesting subtext – Nigeria’s pro-Iranian Shia Muslim community was virtually non-existent 30 years ago but now comprise about 5% of the country’s 80 million Muslims, with close ties remaining between Tehran and the Islamic Movement in Nigeria.

Holed up

Located 96km from São Paulo in one of Brazil’s oldest cities, the Vitória Hotel Concept in Campinas has four restaurants, 253 rooms and a heliport. That could come in handy when the issue of player bonuses inevitably rears its ugly head.

How they qualified
Won the Cup of Nations this year and were unbeaten in six group games before a 4-1 aggregate victory over Ethiopia in the two-legged play-off which owed a debt of gratitude to the fine form of Lille’s unbreachable goalkeeper Victor Enyeama.

World Cup high
Eighty-eight minutes into their round of 16 match at their debut tournament in 1994 against 10-man Italy, Nigeria were 1-0 up until Rip Van Baggio at last awoke and equalised with a superb shot and then scored the extra-time winner from the spot.

World Cup low
Two defeats, one to Greece, and a draw in 2010 enraged Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, to such a peak of Rumpelstiltskin rage that he banned the team from playing international matches for two years before backtracking a week later.

Familiar faces
Kenneth Omeruo (Chelsea) and John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Shola Ameobi (ex-Newcastle United), Peter Odemwingie (Stoke City).

Title odds

The stereotype is …
Chaotic organisation, defensive indiscipline, John Obi Mikel doing his Ray Wilkins crab-dance and flash, amusement arcade forwards more interested in winning goal of the tournament than the golden boot.

The reality is …
Excellent goalkeeper, industrious and mean defence, Mikel less inhibited and betraying hints of why Chelsea fought so hard to get him and a dangerous, bullocking forward in Emmanuel Emenike. The key to Keshi’s success since taking over the Super Eagles in 2011 has been managing to get the best out of Mikel. Deployed in a more advanced role than he is used to for Chelsea, Nigeria have long abandoned 4-4-2 and play a variation of 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, with Lazio’s Ogenyi Onazi providing the bite alongside Mikel and Africa Cup hero Sunday Mba offering support. Victor Moses, Emenike and a potential recall for Odemwingie could make for an exciting front three.

What they’re known for?
Potent Guinness 12 per cent
419 scams 21 per cent
Band on the Run 9 per cent
Oil 40 per cent
Sub-Australian standard soaps 18 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Help our youth the truth to know, in love and honesty to grow

A breezy, Ronnie Hazlehurst-esque 55sec.

How to dress like their fans

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Green and white face-paint, green and white Harpo Marx wigs, green and white clothes. Think Plymouth Argyle or retro, spearmint-flavoured, sickly confectionery, Pacers, formerly Opal Mints.

Commentator’s go-to stat
One sixth of Africa’s population lives in Nigeria. Ameobi scored as many England Under-21 goals (seven) as Jermain Defoe.


Iran Team Preview

The Players

Rahman Ahmadi goalkeeper, Sepahan

Khosro Heydari midfielder, Esteghlal

Ehsan Hajsafi midfielder, Sepahan

Jalal Hosseini defender, Persepolis

Amir Hossein Sadeghi defender, Esteghlal

Javad Nekounam (captain) midfielder, Al-Kuwait

Masoud Shojaei midfielder, Las Palmas

Reza Haghighi midfielder, Persepolis

Alireza Jahanbakhsh forward, NEC

10 Karim Ansarifard forward, Tractor Sazi

11 Ghasem Haddadifar midfielder, Zob Ahan

12 Alireza Haghighi goalkeeper, Sporting Covilhã

13 Hossein Mahini defender, Persepolis

14 Andranik Teymourian midfielder, Esteghlal

15 Pejman Montazeri defender, Umm Salal

16 Reza Ghoochannejhad forward, Charlton Athletic

17 Ahmad Alnameh defender, Naft Tehran

18 Bakhtiar Rahmani midfielder, Foolad

19 Hashem Beikzadeh defender, Esteghlal

20 Steven Beitashour defender, Vancouver Whitecaps

21 Ashkan Dejagah midfielder, Fulham

22 Daniel Davari goalkeeper, Eintracht Braunschweig

23 Mehrdad Pouladi defender, Persepolis

Star man


Reza Ghoochannejhad – Gucci to his Charlton Athletic team-mates and those who struggle with tongue-twister surnames – suggested he could solve the country’s goalscoring woes when he struck nine times in his first 11 matches after making his debut in qualifying. Technically deft and endowed with a terrific shot he represented Holland at youth level, his parents having moved to the Netherlands when he was a child.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace …

The Persepolis midfielder Mehrdad Pooladi underwent surgery on the little finger of his right hand after the mother of all hissy fits on being substituted in the first half of an Iranian league match in October 2012, smashing a glass door in frustration.

The coach

Carlos Queiroz didn’t immediately endear himself to certain sections of the Iranian hierarchy by appointing an American assistant manager but an impressive qualifying campaign featuring some public taunting of South Korea has made him a popular figure.

Grudge match

First and foremost, the Great Satan. Iran’s one finals victory was arguably the most politically charged in Word Cup history – the “mother of all games” meeting with the United States in 1998 staged in Lyon and it ended up 2-1 to Iran and cue the mother of all celebrations. But rivalry with South Korea took a bitter twist during the latest qualifiers, when the then-Korea manager Choi Kang-hee bemoaned “bad treatment’ by the hosts after his team lost in Tehran. When the teams met again in Korea, Quieroz pinned a photograph of Choi to his shirt and wore it throughout the buildup. When Iran won again, Quieroz turned to a make an up yours gesture to the Korean bench.

Holed up

Iran will use Corinthians’ training ground in São Paolo and have persuaded the club’s general manager, the former Arsenal midfielder Edu, to help run the sessions. Fitness tips may be harder to find at their hotel in the city of Guarulhos, which means “big-bellied people” in the Tupi language.

How they qualified
Beat South Korea to top spot in Group A in the AFC region beating them home and away in the process, with the match in Tehran played in front of a crowd just shy of 100,000.

World Cup high
It will be hard to beat the 2-1 victory over the ‘Great Satan’ USA in Lyon in 1998.

World Cup low
A 1-1 draw with Scotland at the 1978 World Cup was sandwiched between comprehensive defeats to Netherland and Peru which well and truly burst the bubble of reaching the finals for the first time.

Familiar faces
Ashkan Dejagah (Fulham).

Title odds: 500/1

The stereotype is …
A team fuelled by hatred of the West and roared on by fans burning American flags.

The reality is …
A mild-mannered bunch of footballers listening to bad music on oversized headphones just like everyone else.

What they’re known for
Ayatollahs 45 per cent
Revolution 30 per cent
Beards 12 per cent
Good food 8 per cent
Argo 4 per cent
Cradle of civilisation 1 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Went into the horizon October khavaran. Blaze the believers. February, our faith oven

How long it lasts
Long enough for the players to shed a tear or two.

How to dress like their fans

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Green. White, Red. Everywhere. Your face, your hands, your clothes, your hair. Get it on there.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has seen 23 managers come and go during his time as Supreme Leader. Puts Roman Abramovich’s hiring and firing into perspective.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Team Preview

The Players

Asmir Begovic goalkeeper, Stoke City

Avdija Vrsajevic defender, Hajduk Split

Ermin Bicakcic defender, Eintracht Braunschweig

Emir Spahic (captain) defender, Bayer Leverkusen

Sead Kolasinac defender, Schalke

Ognjen Vranjes defender, Elazıgspor

Muhamed Besic defender, Ferencvaros

Miralem Pjanic midfielder, Roma

Vedad Ibisevic forward, VfB Stuttgart

10 Zvjezdan Misimovic midfielder, Guizhou Renhe

11 Edin Dzeko forward, Manchester City

12 Jasmin Fejzic goalkeeper, Aalen

13 Mensur Mujdza defender, Freiburg

14 Tino-Sven Susic midfielder, Hajduk Split

15 Toni Sunjic defender, Zorya Luhansk

16 Senad Lulic midfielder, Lazio

17 Senijad Ibricic midfielder, Kayseri Erciyesspor

18 Haris Medunjanin midfielder, Gaziantepspor

19 Edin Visca forward, Istanbul BB

20 Izet Hajrovic midfielder, Galatasaray

21 Anel Hadzic midfielder, Sturm Graz

22 Asmir Avdukic goalkeeper, Borac Banja Luka

23 Sejad Salihovic midfielder, 1899 Hoffenheim

Star man


Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko, 33 goals in 60 internationals, is an obvious figurehead, but the playmaker Miralem Pjanic is key. A lovely attacking playmaker, one for the purists, and provides excellent service to Dzeko and Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
The Bosnian FA. Fifa briefly (2011) banned the Bozzers from international football for refusing to nominate one, rather than three, FA presidents.

The coach

Safet Susic has the whole country behind him after masterminding dynamic, exciting qualifying charge that saw the Dragons bang in 30 goals.

Grudge match

The collapse of Yugoslavia and resultant Bosnian war from 1992-95 would suggest a crack at Croatia might reflect local political tensions but a run of World Cup misses features one side twice: Portugal – play-off defeats before the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, with the second-leg of the latter tie lost 6-2 – are Bosnia’s bogeymen.

Holed up

The Dragons’ (Zmajevi) den in Brazil is the Casa Grande in the seaside resort of Guarujá, known as “The Pearl of the Atlantic” and 40 miles from São Paulo. Training takes place at the not-quite-finished yet Estádio Municipal Antônio Fernandes. Susic says the locals will be impressed: “I’ll be bringing 23 young lads, charming ones with good manners. Everyone will have something nice to say about us.”

How they qualified
Dramatic final match day saw them finish level on 25 points in group G, but bested Greece on goal difference to qualify automatically.

World Cup high
This! The young nation of Bosnia-Herzegovina is mighty proud as its talented team heads to its first World Cup.

World Cup low
Losing to Portugal in the play-offs to qualify for 2010 (Portugal repeated the dose in the euro 2012 qualifying play-off as well).

Familiar faces
Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City).

Title odds

The stereotype is …
Fair to say that most English football fans will be unburnt by preconceptions about Bosnian team. Probably more skilful than our mob.

The reality is …
Modern, sophisticated team with genuine attacking élan, top-class goalie. Inspirational skipper in defender Emir Spahic. The coach says his “tactical gamble” – playing all his star forwards at once in a flexible 4-1-3-2 – is for the good of the game. “When you have players such as these, it would be unfair to the fans, to the sport itself, not to unleash all our talent.” It worked in qualifying: 30 goals scored in 10 games.

What they’re known for
Horrible war 85 per cent
Idiot footballers thinking that the free transfer case was the Bosnian Ruling 15 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Still being finalised, but so far the Bosnian lyricists have got: “You are the light of the soul Eternal Flame Burner”

One minute 40, and it sounds quite like ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’.

How to dress like their fans

Blue and yellow are the order of the day. Support of team has been a major touchstone of new nation’s identity.

Commentator’s go-to stat
The highest peak in Bosnia and Hercegovina is Maglic Mountain. It is not believed to have Maglical properties.


Argentina Team Preview

The Players

Sergio Romero goalkeeper, Monaco

Ezequiel Garay defender, Benfica

Hugo Campagnaro defender, Internazionale

Pablo Zabaleta defender, Manchester City

Fernando Gago midfielder, Boca Juniors

Lucas Biglia midfielder, Lazio

Ángel di María midfielder, Real Madrid

Enzo Pérez midfielder, Benfica

Gonzalo Higuaín forward, Napoli

10 Lionel Messi (captain) forward, Barcelona

11 Maxi Rodríguez midfielder, Newell’s Old Boys

12 Agustín Orión goalkeeper, Boca Juniors

13 Augusto Fernández midfielder, Celta Vigo

14 Javier Mascherano midfielder, Barcelona

15 Martín Demichelis defender, Manchester City

16 Marcos Rojo defender, Sporting

17 Federico Fernández defender, Napoli

18 Rodrigo Palacio forward, Internazionale

19 Ricardo Álvarez midfielder, Internazionale

20 Sergio Agüero forward, Manchester City

21 Mariano Andújar goalkeeper, Catania

22 Ezequiel Lavezzi forward, Paris Saint-Germain

23 José María Basanta defender, Monterrey

Star man

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Look no further than Lionel Messi, though as the Barcelona forward has spent the majority of his life in Catalonia, many fans of La Albicelesteprefer the more workaday talents of the much-missed Carlos Tevez. But when the coach Alejandro Sabella says: “Messi is irreplaceable” he’s telling you nothing you don’t already know.

Most likely to be sent home in disgrace
Javier Mascherano has enlivened up many a European night with his poor behaviour, but his finest hour is surely a red card for kicking a medic during a match with Ecuador recently.

The coach

Small and balding, Sabella has come a long way from the Osmonds lookalike who turned up at Sheffield United in the late 1970s. But hold your Crazy Horses, he has won titles at River Plate and Estudiantes, and won the 2009 Copa Libertadores. When Daniel Passarella was national manager, Sabella was part of his staff and followed him to Parma, the Uruguay side, Monterrey and Corinthians. A lightweight midfielder, he was popular at Bramall Lane but less so at his next side, Leeds United. He played in relegation seasons at both clubs.

Grudge match

The rivalry with neighbours Brazil is rather special. In 1920, Brazil fielded only seven players in protest at a critical article in an Argentinian newspaper. Argentina followed suit by dropping four of their XI, then beating their opponents 3-1. In 1939, Argentina walked off in dispute over a last-minute penalty, leaving Brazil to score the winner into an empty net. In 1946, a barrage of kicks and punches resulted in broken legs and a police baton charge. The teams cooled off by avoiding each other for 10 years.

Holed up

Argentina will rest up at Cidade do Galo, Atlético Mineiro’s training grounds in Belo Horizonte. It’s a choice that betrays Sabella’s superstition: he won the 2009 Copa Libertadores in the city when his Estudiantes side beat the local team Cruzeiro.

How they qualified
After stuttering start, including first-ever defeat to Venezuela, hit their stride to win 14 qualifiers straight and top the South American qualifying group.

World Cup high
Although Maradona in 1986 was obviously great, the 1978 win on home soil, with the country in crisis, had even more resonance.

World Cup low
Getting tonked 6-1 by Czechoslovakia in Sweden 1958 and going out at the first hurdle.

Familiar faces
Pablo Zabaleta (Manchester City), Erik Lamela (Tottenham Hotspur), Sergio Agüero (Manchester City), Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United).

Title odds

The stereotype is 
Passionate Latins, silky skills, accomplished cheats, diminutive powerful little hustlers with fantastic technique.

The reality is … 
Gifted but prone to rather limp displays at recent World Cups; tactics basically amount to “give it to Leo”.

Messi, Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín and Angel di María are all practically undroppable, so Argentina have little option but to attack. A lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the holding midfielder Mascherano, and on coach Sabella, who must do what Diego Maradona couldn’t do in 2010, and ensure his team keep a little shape – and their heads. He also stresses that Argentina cannot rely on Messi alone.

What they’re known for
Malbec 40 per cent
Steak 30 per cent
Pampas 20 per cent
Mickey Mouse currency 10 per cent

How Google translates the national anthem
Mars himself seems to encourage. Greatness nestles on her breasts.

Official version described as “excessively long”. Radio edit is one minute six seconds.

How to dress like their fans

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Be an attractive woman in a tight football T-shirt, wear a Diego mask or get a blue and white top hat.

Commentator’s go-to stat
Argentina has the highest number of psychiatrists per capita of anywhere in the world. Most of them work exclusively on Maradona.