Messi’s Summer Holiday Plans Determine Result: World Cup Group F

This one could be fun.

With a cast including four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Edin Dzeko, Group F could provide some of the best entertainment in the opening round. This would require the top players for Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (and Iran) to play like they do for their club teams (Messi-Barcelona, Mikel-Chelsea, Dzeko-Manchester City).

* Summer Holiday? Messi has scored 37 goals in 83 appearances for Argentina, placing him second on the country’s all-time list. That’s impressive for just about anyone except Messi. In 2011-12, Messi scored 73 goals in 60 games for Barcelona and followed the world-record performance with 60 goals the following season. In his Barcelona career, he has a club record 354 goals in 425 games, almost double his scoring percentage for Argentina. In 2010, he scored 47 goals for Barcelona, and none at the World Cup, where coach Diego Maradona used him as a playmaker in central midfield rather than as an all-out striker. Messi’s only goal in eight World Cup appearances came in a 2006 group game against Serbia and Montenegro, when his team already led 5-0 with two minutes to play. To be sure, Argentina also has strikers Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, who has 21 goals in 36 international games, as scoring options.

Third Time

* Never a Winner: Argentina and Nigeria first met at the World Cup in 1994 in Boston. It was Maradona’s last game for the national team, and Argentina won 2-1. In subsequent meetings in 2002 and 2010, Argentina handed the Super Eagles 1-0 defeats. Nigeria, the African champions, won’t get its first World Cup win against Argentina, according to Bloomberg Sports. Messi et al. will win 2-0, according to the quants.

* Third Time Lucky: To make it to the round of 16 for the first time in three attempts, Nigeria will have to avoid an upset from Bosnia and Herzegovina, the only tournament newcomer. While Nigeria has the World Cup experience, Bosnia and Herzegovina may have the edge. It topped its qualifying group with one loss in 10 matches. It outscored opponents 30-6 and is ranked No. 21 by FIFA, compared with Nigeria’s No. 44. Bloomberg Sports analysis predicts a goalless draw.

* Game Schedule: June 15: Argentina vs Bosnia and Herzegovina. June 16: Iran vs Nigeria. June 21: Argentina vs Iran, Nigeria vs Bosnia and Herzegovina. June 25: Nigeria vs Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina vs Iran.

* Bloomberg Sports’ Title Chances: Argentina - 12.2 percent Nigeria - 0.7 percent Bosnia and Herzegovina - 0.7 percent Iran - 0.1 percent

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