Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella has put Lionel Messi’s habit of throwing up on the pitch down to anxiety and the Barcelona forward starts the tournament knowing he is under pressure to replicate Diego Maradona’s achievements in 1986 and cement his place in place in football history. It will take more than Messi’s magic, though, if Argentina are going to finish their World Cup campaign where they start at the iconic Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.
They have tended to play on the counterattack under Sabella, but the Group F favourites will be forced to take the initiative against Bosnia. For Argentina, attack will be the best form of defence with a fluid frontline that is likely to see Sergio Aguero in a central role, Messi drifting in from the right and Gonzalo Higuain starting on the left of the front three if he recovers from an ankle problem.
Ezequiel Lavezzi offers vibrancy from the bench and the rest of the team is fairly settled, with Javier Mascherano anchoring the midfield and Real Madrid star Angel Di Maria initiating attacks from a deeper position.
Bosnia’s instinct is also to attack under Safet Susic, who is expected to move away from the two man strikeforce used in their impressive qualifying campaign and play a 4-2-3-1 system, with star man Edin Dzeko leading the line as the sole striker. The Manchester City forward will be expected to link Bosnia’s play and get them in positions to display their attacking quality, with the Zvjezdan Misimovic and Miralem Pjanic providing the creativity in central areas. In their first World Cup appearance, the concern for Susic will be about his team’s defence, especially if they fall behind early given the questions over their notoriously unpredictable mentality, with much depending on captain Spahic at centre-back. The only injury concern for Bosnia is Sejad Salihovic. If passed fit, the midfielder will slot in at left-back, allowing Sead Kolasinac to move to centre-back.
Argentina have won nine and lost just one of their last 12 World Cup group games (D2), scoring 24 and conceding just four in total in this run.
La Albiceleste have only mustered two wins in their last nine World Cup games against European sides, drawing four and losing three.
Bosnia-Herzegovina are the only country making their World Cup debut in 2014. Since 1950, the best record for a side making their debut is third, achieved by Portugal in 1966 and Croatia in 1998.
Lionel Messi has only scored one goal in 571 minutes of World Cup football. Indeed only one of his 31 shots in the tournament has found the net.
Argentina have won both previous internationals against the Dragons (both friendlies), scoring seven and conceding none.
Alejandro Sabella's side scored more goals than any other South American side in qualifying (35).
No player was involved in more goals than Edin Dzeko in the European qualifiers (14 – 10 goals, 4 assists).
Dzeko and compatriot Vedad Ibisevic both scored four headed goals in qualification; the strike partners scored all eight of Bosnia's headed goals between them.