25 June 2014 | News Comments

Previews: Wednesday's Group E & F clashes

1700, José Pinheiro Borda
Nigeria v Argentina

Group leaders Argentina face Nigeria in their final Group F fixture, knowing that a point is all that's needed to claim top spot and avoid a potential clash with Didier Deschamps' impressive France side in the next round.

However, having struggled against a resolute Iran side on Saturday before eventually claiming all three points thanks to a 90th Lionel Messi wonder-goal, this may not be quite as straightforward for the two-time winners. Nigeria are yet to concede a goal at the finals and need just a point to secure their own progress to the knockout stages.

Argentina to cut through Nigeria's soft core
With the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain in their side, it's easy to see understand why the Argentineans scored more than three quarters of their goals en route to the finals from central areas. No other team appearing in Brazil surpassed this feat but Nigeria also had a poor record at defending through the middle. Three quarters of the goals they conceded during qualifying were created from here, although notably they are yet to concede during this tournament. Messi highlighted Argentina's strength through the middle against Bosnia in the group opener when he combined with Higuain before bending a superb shot beyond Asmir Begovic.

Shoot on sight for the Super Eagles
During qualifying, no team scored a higher percentage of goals from outside the area than Nigeria with an impressive 36 per cent of all efforts coming from more than 18 yards. Seemingly this has not gone unnoticed in the Super Eagles camp either - of all 28 efforts at goal so far in the finals (both on target and off), 19 of them have been from distance. Bosnia & Herzegovina adopted a similar approach in their match against Argentina - five of their six shots on target were from outside the area but, perhaps more tellingly, Vehad Ibisevic's goal came from 10 yards out.

Expect a direct contest
For all their enviable attacking options, Argentina have actually taken fewer shots than Nigeria so far - 27 to 28 - in a frustrating campaign so far. Their much-less-celebrated defence will also have to be wary of Nigeria's pace and directness, with only Holland playing a greater share of passes into space than Nigeria's 3.5 per cent. The middle of the pitch looks set to be congested, with both these sides among the tournament's most centrally-biased passers; over three quarters of their balls have been to a team-mate in the centre of the pitch.

Summary
Nigeria come into the final group match with their fate in their own hands, something few would have expected from the lowest ranked team in Group F. However, Stephen Keshi's well-organised side are difficult to break drown and, with the lightning pace of Ahmed Musa and ever-willing Stoke striker Peter Odemwingie, they have proved a tough nut to crack. With stuttering Argentina yet to find their rhythm - despite winning both matches - and boss Alejandro Sabella still deciding on his favoured system, now could be a good time for the Super Eagles to provide another 2014 World Cup shock and grab the point required to progress.

1700, Arena Fonte Nova
Bosnia-Herzegovina v Iran

Few would have expected Iran being in a position to qualify for the second round going into the final group games, but Carlos Queiroz's men know that a victory against an already-eliminated Bosnia side may see them squeeze through.

After opening with a tedious 0-0 draw against Nigeria and falling only to some late Lionel Messi magic against Argentina, they're now dependent on Messi and company dispatching the Super Eagles and Bosnia - unfortunate to be on their way home after two decent yet fruitless displays - falling flat again.

Goals the difference
Let's add a hint of realism to this script. In order to progress, Iran have to do something that they haven't yet managed in Brazil: find the back of the net. Despite banging in 30 goals in 16 qualifying matches, the step-up in opposition, combined with a tendency to defend deep and in numbers, has left Iran as one of only two finalists to draw a blank so far.

Having scored 40 per cent of their qualifying goals from set pieces, they need to get themselves further up the pitch to utilise those strengths. After showing little attacking threat in the first-half against Argentina - perhaps understandably - they did create some good chances after the break and should have had a penalty. More of the same is needed at the Arena Fonte Nova.

Gaps in defence
It was a case of what could have been for the Bosnians after Edin Dzeko saw a perfectly good goal chalked off against Nigeria. On the back of an unlucky reverse to Argentina in their first match, much of their attacking threat came from the left in their second and, with Iran netting 12 of those 30 qualifying goals from the right side, this could create an inviting gap to exploit. However, this is clearly an area which Bosnia need to defend if they are to avoid a World Cup wooden spoon.

Full on contest
Don't expect much subtlety in this contest, which pits two of the most direct sides in the tournament against each other. Fully two thirds of Iran's passes have been played forwards - the highest share by far - with Bosnia's 61 per cent a distant second. In Iran's case this strategy hasn't paid off so far, with both the lowest number of passes completed - just 166 per match compared with Bosnia's average of 432 - and the lowest passing accuracy at the tournament. Unless Queiroz is prepared to sacrifice some caution to provide more passing options, then Bosnia should find possession easy to come by.

Summary
Group F may still yet stand for 'fairytale' in a World Cup that has already thrown up its fair share of surprises. Much will depend on the mindset of a Bosnia side who know that this is their final game of the tournament, coupled with the level of risk that Iran are prepared to take in the hope that Nigeria forget their own lines in Porto Alegre.

2100, Arena Amazonia
Honduras v Swtizerland

Honduras have to believe in miracles to book a place in the knock-out stages of the World Cup finals after being on the receiving end of a 3-0 thrashing by France and getting turned over 2-1 by Ecuador, but should the Central Americans heavily defeat the Swiss and Ecuador lose to France, then the slimmest of mathematical possibilities could become a reality.

Switzerland however stand a better chance to qualify for the last 16, but will need to better Ecuador's result in the final game of Group E given the South Americans' superior goal difference and may have to rely on France to do them a favour.

Honduras ready to pounce
Matches involving Switzerland in this World Cup have been highly entertaining. The Swiss sealed a great comeback from 1-0 behind to beat Ecuador with an injury-time winner from substitute Haris Seferovic and grabbed another two late goals in their second game but only after France had scored five. Ball retention is a cause for concern for Switzerland in this tournament as no side has made more errors in possession than their 53. Coupled with the fact that only four sides in Brazil have a better completion rate of balls into the final third than the Hondurans, they will be looking to the likes of Andy Nejar and Roger Espinoza to counter quickly and punish the Swiss if they continue to be sloppy in possession.

Swiss back four can regain confidence
Switzerland had the meanest defence of all during qualification, claiming seven clean sheets in 10 games on the road to Brazil but alarmingly Ottmar Hitzfield's side have shipped six goals in the opening two games of the finals - five of those against Didier Deschamps' unexpectedly rampant French side. Honduras are finding it a real struggle to locate the back of the net, with their only goal this tournament coming from Carlo Costly in the defeat to Ecuador. This is a continuation of their sporadic performances in front of goal during qualifying, which saw them fail to score in 38 per cent of their matches - the highest percentage of any side competing in Brazil.

Welcome to the jungle
When Honduras did find the back of the net on their journey to the finals, almost a third of their goals came in the final 15 minutes of games - only six of the finalists scored a higher proportion of late goals. In contrast, Switzerland leaked a half of all goals during the same period in qualification and given the testing conditions expected in the Amazonian city of Manaus, the latter stages of this clash could be an area of concern for the European side.

Summary
The two sides have only met once before: playing out a goalless draw at the World Cup in South Africa four years ago, and a repeat of this group stage encounter would only see Switzerland qualify if France beat Ecuador. Honduras are unlikely to still be in the tournament next week, but Luis Suarez's players will look to end their campaign on a high, with hopes resting on strikers Jerry Bengtson and Costly to get on the scoresheet. Misfiring opponents or not, Switzerland will have to defend better than they did against the French if they are to progress into the last 16.

2100, Estadio Jornalista Mario Filho Maracana
Ecuador v France

It would take an unfortunate combination of circumstances for free-scoring France not to qualify for the second round. Thanks to their very healthy goal difference it would require a comprehensive defeat here, combined with a big Swiss win over Honduras, to send them home. Ecuador are under a lot more pressure, knowing that they have to match Switzerland's result to stay in the competition. In all probability this means that three points will be required for the South Americans, while France would be content with a draw.

A tale of two strikers
These two sides each boast one of the tournament's in-form strikers, upon whom they have been heavily reliant for goals. Ecuador's Enner Valencia and France's Karim Benzema each have three strikes to their name from their two matches so far, with Benzema also setting up three of the other four goals that France have scored. Both men will surely be heavily marked during this encounter, with the relatively one-dimensional nature of Valencia's supply line meaning that France's full backs, Patrice Evra and Mathieu Debuchy, are likely to be employed in tracking Ecuador's wingers than drifting forwards and risking being caught out.

Do Ecuador have a Plan B?
Ecuador rely heavily on getting the ball in close, usually via crosses that are powerfully headed home, but they may need to introduce more variety to get past the French. All three of their goals so far have come from inside the six yard box - two of them headers - which follows an established pattern from qualifying where no side scored a greater share of goals from the air (42 per cent) and only four netted a higher proportion from close range than their 35 per cent. On the evidence of their own qualifying campaign - and indeed the tournament so far - France's defence look capable of nullifying this strategy. The French conceded one of the lowest shares of goals conceded from this distance - just 13 per cent - and only one of the 17 shots they have faced at the finals so far has been from inside their six yard box.

Making it count
Ecuador will consider themselves unlucky to have lost to Switzerland at the death in their first match - particularly given their opponents' error-strewn performance - but in truth they failed to capitalise when a victory was within their grasp. Only 72 per cent of Ecuador's forward passes have found their targets, the fifth lowest share at the finals and suggestive of a team often hurriedly booting the ball upfield. France, on the other hand, look to have picked their passes more carefully: the 87 per cent of the balls they have successfully sent forward is the third highest in the tournament. Unless Ecuador can play more patiently, it is likely that France will be able to keep them at bay with a more measured approach.

Summary
Ecuador are undoubtedly dangerous going forward, but will need to offer a more diverse attacking threat - beyond pinging crosses towards Enner Valencia - if they are to cause an upset here. If Didier Deschamps asks his full-backs to sit back and mark Ecuador's wingers out of the game then we could be in for a low-scoring affair. Either way, it is likely that Ecuadorians will be in need of a favour from Honduras if they are to extend their stay in Brazil.