21 June 2014 | News Comments

Previews: Saturday's World Cup games

All games live on RTE Two

Group F

Argentina v Iran, Belo Horizonte, 1700 

Argentina will be expected to secure their place in the round of 16 with a game to spare by shrugging off Iran in Belo Horizonte on Saturday.

While their opening encounter against Bosnia-Herzegovina was not filled with the thrilling attacking football we have come to expect, the Argentinians looked comfortable and when Lionel Messi doubled their lead in the 65th minute, it was essentially game over.

Iran start as huge underdogs despite holding Nigeria to a 0-0 draw in a match which will not live long in the memory.

The question is, can they spring one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history and stall the South Americans' progress?

Playing through the defence
With Messi and Sergio Aguero having the ability to weave through defences seemingly at will, it comes as no surprise that Argentina are able to wreak havoc by supplying their skilful forwards in the middle of the park.

Messi's goal against Bosnia was a perfect case in point, cutting in to the centre of the pitch before gliding past several defenders and curling the ball past a helpless Asmir Begovic.

The maestro will be looking for more goals, his side scoring 77 per cent - more than any other side - of their goals through the middle during qualifying.

Ominously for the Iranians, they conceded almost 60 per cent of their goals from that region.
Attacking the flanks

Carlos Queiroz's side utilised the right wing more than any other side on their journey to Brazil, scoring 40 per cent of their goals from wide right.

So it will be a crumb of comfort for them that their rivals conceded 60 per cent of goals from the wings - only five teams conceded a higher share.

Pass, pass, pass
The Iran coach described his side's defensive approach in their goalless draw against Nigeria as 'pragmatic'. And it's highly likely that they won't see much of the ball against Argentina either.

In fact, no side completed fewer passes in their opening games than Iran's 139, while Argentina managed nearly three and a half times as many - 485 - against Bosnia.

Argentina's two most prolific passers - Javier Mascherano and Messi - made more successful passes between them (147) than Iran's entire squad.

Summary
The only question many people will be asking ahead of this clash is 'how many will Argentina score?' But will it really be that easy?

Queiroz's side showed against Nigeria that they are a well organised defensive unit and, as Belgium almost found out against Algeria, it's the apparent easy matches that are sometimes the most difficult.

Iran only conceded 0.44 goals against during qualifying - the fourth lowest average of the finalists, and with one clean sheet already in the tournament, they might just fancy their chances of grabbing a point.

Group G

Germany v Ghana, Fortaleza, 2000



The Press Association's MatchStory team have captured advanced data for every goal scored and conceded by the 32 World Cup finalists during their qualifying matches, except Brazil for whom their fixtures in 2013 were used, to build a profile of each team's strengths, weaknesses and playing style.

A European team can't win in South America?
Try telling Die Mannschaft. The merciless Germans demolished 10-man Portugal in Salvador on Monday and already look nailed on for the second round ahead of the clash with Ghana.

Joachim Low's side issued a statement of clinical intent to the rest of the world as Thomas Muller helped himself to a hat-trick in the 4-0 win and Pepe lost his head.

Ghana got off to the worst possible start against Jurgen Klinsmann's USA, conceding the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history after Clint Dempsey struck after just 29 seconds.

The Black Stars' hopes of following up 2010's quarter-final appearance with another strong showing in Brazil are hanging by a thread with no margin for error against the German machine.

Can we have a ball, too?
As you would expect from the technically gifted Germans, their passing was fantastic, registering a 90.7 per cent successful pass rate - the fifth highest of teams so far. Playing against 10-men no doubt helped but impressive nonetheless.

This is in stark contrast to Ghana, who clearly need to look up more often: they only managed to find a team-mate with 82.3 per cent of the passes they made - only six other teams have been less accurate so far.

Opening in style
Germany scored in every game on the road to Brazil, registering the highest goals per game average of any team in the tournament at 3.60. It looks ominous for their opponents that they clicked straight into gear in their opener.

Ghana, who conceded two to a USA side missing their all-time top scorer, Landon Donovan, only managed to keep a clean sheet in 38 per cent of their qualifying games - only five other finalists had a lower percentage of blanks.

If the Black Stars are to take anything from this game it looks like they will have to find a way through the German defence.

Locked and loaded
Rather than find a way through the German wall, Ghana might think about taking it out of the equation altogether.

Akwasi Appiah's side were no strangers from shooting from distance through qualifying, scoring a fifth of their goals from outside the penalty area - a higher proportion than 27 other teams.

A fifth of the goals (albeit only two in total) Germany conceded through qualifying were from this distance. Against a defence protected by the excellent Philipp Lahm, going over rather than through may be the only viable option.

Summary
It is difficult to see beyond Low's men in Forteleza after their opening showing, remembering they were already well on their way to victory before Portugal saw red.

With the Ghanaian defence, statistically anyway, unlikely to keep the German threat at bay they are going to have to throw some caution to the wind - and sort their passing out. Otherwise, it looks quite ominous for the African giants.

Nigeria v Bosnia Herzegovina, Cuiaba, 2300

Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina head into their penultimate group game knowing a victory will put them in the driving seat in their quest for the knockout stage.

Nigeria played out the first draw of the tournament during a drab goalless affair against a determined Iran, while the Bosnians impressed despite falling foul of a bit of Lionel Messi brilliance in a 2-1 reverse to Argentina.

With Messi and friends expected to roll over the Iranians, a Nigeria win will dump the Europeans out while a Super Eagles defeat puts their fate in other hands.

Contrasting styles in the final third
Despite wingers Victor Moses and Ahmed Musa providing a regular threat from the flanks, the Super Eagles failed to break down Iran's defensive resolve during their opener.

However, Nigerian head coach Stephen Keshi should look to persevere with this tactic with particular attention being paid to Bosnia's right flank - having conceded a third of their qualifying goals from there.

In contrast the Europeans focused their attack through the middle, providing a serious test to Argentinian centre-backs Hugo Campagnaro and Federico Fernandez in the opener.

Of all of Bosnia-Herzegovina's final third passes only one in 10 went sideways in attacking areas - very direct and the second-lowest number of all teams in the first round of matches.

So, why the centre of attention?
Edin Dzeko scored 10 goals for Bosnia-Herzegovina, second only to Holland's Robin van Persie (11) in European qualification.

Given that fellow striker Vedad Ibisevic notched eight goals himself, it is no surprise that 60 per cent of their goals came from central areas during that campaign - only six of the finalists scored a higher proportion through the middle.

This should be a major concern for Keshi - his side shipped a whopping three-quarters of goals during qualifying from the middle of the park - the second highest proportion of all sides.

Fitness Factor
Nigeria scored almost two-thirds of their goals on the road to Brazil in the final 15 minutes of games, a higher proportion than any other team competing at the finals.

Alarmingly, Bosnia-Herzegovina leaked a third of all goals during the same time period in qualification and, given the testing conditions expected in the tropical city of Cuiaba, the latter stages of this clash could be an area of concern for Safet Susic's side.

Summary
With Argentina expected to top Group F, this game could prove crucial in deciding who joins them in the round of 16.

Nigeria struggled to use their counter-attacking style of football against a very defensive Iran side but, with Bosnia-Herzegovina expected to play with a lot more freedom, we should expect more from the Super Eagles this time out.

That said, just one win in seven with just four goals scored tells its own story for the Africans and the powerful attacking trio of Miralem Pjanic, Dzeko and Ibisevic could prove a little too hot to handle as the Bosnian's stake their claim for the last 16.