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The Clean Sheets: Discussing Group F

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird, a four-time FSWA Award finalist, is RotoWire's Senior Soccer Editor and an editor for the site's NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, CBB and DFS content.

Nick Pitner

Nick Pitner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire. He supports Arsenal FC, the Green Bay Packers, and the New York Knicks, while specializing in those respective sports in his coverage for the site.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2014 12:42pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: The Clean Sheets - Group F

Group F is another pool that features familiar foes, as Argentina and Nigeria were not only in the same group at South Africa 2010, but also played in the gold medal game of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Argentina won both previous encounters and are heavy favorites in this group, which also includes Iran and World Cup debutants Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I think Argentina is destined for a deep run in this summer's tournament. Along with a relatively weak group, their projected draw in the knockout stages is favorable as well.

Of course, four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi headlines the squad, but Argentina is far from a one-trick pony. In fact, I believe they roster the world's best group of strikers, with Sergio "Kun" Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Ezequiel Lavezzi, and Rodrigo Palacio rounding out manager Alejando's Sabella's explosive options up front. Such firepower is heightened by the midfield service of Angel di Maria, Europe's assist leader this season, and Ricky Alvarez, another gifted passer. Clearly, opponents will have their hands full with whomever Sabella opts to start in attack.

Given their preferred 3-4-3 formation, the Argentines are thought to be vulnerable in defense, but I'm not so sure they actually are. They have a number of holding midfielders and experienced defenders that can quickly win the ball and feed it forward. Like I said, I have big expectations for this team, especially with the World Cup being so close to home.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew M. Laird
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2014 2:09pm
To: Nick Pitner
Subject: re: The Clean Sheets - Group F

I completely agree about Argentina and they are (spoiler alert) my pick to win it all. With that kind of firepower, each one of their matches is a must-watch. My only hesitation is Aguero's injury history this season. While he still managed to score 17 goals in 23 Premier League matches, he was bothered by groin, hamstring and thigh injuries. Argentina won't be lost without him, but any absence will hurt in their quest to win the whole thing.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have become a popular dark-horse pick recently, maybe because so many people thought they had a sleeper with Belgium until they found out EVERYONE had Belgium as their sleeper pick.

Edin Dzeko had a pretty significant lull in the middle of the Premier League season, as Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini opted to play Aguero and Alvaro Negredo (who failed to make the Spanish team for the World Cup) up front together, but once the injury bug hit Aguero, Dzeko pounced on the opportunity for more playing time. Dzeko finished with 28 goals in all competitions for Man City, including five in the final four weeks of the season. There was arguably no hotter player in the Premier League by the time City finally clinched the title, and Dzeko was probably hoping he didn't have to wait a month for the World Cup to start.

However, they are not just Dzeko and 10 others, as Miralem Pjanic is also a force in the midfield. Coming off another fine season at AS Roma, Pjanic is excellent with the ball and has a wonderful ability to deliver it to attacking players right where they need it (which is pretty convenient for Dzeko). Pjanic may not be a household name yet, but he can easily make the leap in this tournament.

Nigeria won't give up that second spot easily, but I have yet to be convinced that they can get above Bosnia and Herzegovina when all is said-and-done.

Iran...well, I hope they enjoy their trip to Brazil.

-----Original Message-----
From: Nicholas Pitner
Sent: Monday, June 10, 2014 pm
To: Andrew M. Laird
Subject: re: The Clean Sheets - Group F

Well, it appears we may share the same pick for this summer's champions. I've yet to definitively select my winner, but Argentina is surely a top candidate for me.

Similarly, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fine dark-horse consideration. As you documented, they have an outstanding striker in Dzeko, who they pair with Vedad Ibisevic to form a rare two-man front in today's game. With 51 goals in 100 combined appearances for his club and country, Ibisevic has been a ruthless scorer over the past two seasons, presenting a real threat next to Dzeko that allowed Bosnia and Herzegovina's 30 goals during qualifying to rank fourth in the European zone. Also, the country allowed just six goals in qualifying and trot out a great goalkeeper in Asmir Begovic to prevent opponents from catching them on the counter.

Nigeria also has a fantastic No. 1 in Vincent Enyeama, who led French side Lille to Ligue 1's second-best defensive record via 21 clean sheets, including an unheard of streak of 11 straight. However, Nigeria is thin in attack, where Chelsea holding midfielder John Obi Mikel is their most creative player in support of fellow Premier Leaguers Victor Moses and Peter Odemwingie.

Iran's chances largely rely on a well-orchestrated defensive unit and having coached at Manchester United (as an assistant), Real Madrid, and Portugal's national team, manager Carlos Queiroz is no stranger to top competition. Nonetheless, Iran's back-line should be no match for teams the caliber of Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina.