Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko, Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama and Iran coach Carlos Queiroz will all be looking for a say in trying to dent Lionel Messi's World Cup dream over the next two weeks. Argentina's captain, who came to Brazil as a favourite for player of the tournament, should lead the twice world champions through to the knockout phase as winners of Group F.
They start against debutants Bosnia at the Maracana on Sunday where coach Alejandro Sabella's main worry will be Dzeko's fine run of scoring form in Manchester City's run-in to the Premier League title last month. The next match against Iran in Argentina's base city of Belo Horizonte six days later will be where Portuguese Queiroz puts his coaching nous to the ultimate test having steered his side to their fourth finals.
It is against Nigeria in the final group match in Porto Alegre on June 25 that Messi, Argentina's second highest scorer of all time with 38 goals in 86 internationals, has a score to settle with Enyeama. The Nigeria keeper had a say in South Africa in keeping Messi scoreless in the 2010 finals, making superb saves from the little ace in a 1-0 Argentine win and leaving him still looking for his first World Cup goal since 2006.
A good day for any one of the three could complicate Argentina's plans to break their quarter-final hoodoo and reach the last four for the first time since Diego Maradona's side in Italy in 1990. "Those of us in the team for some time have not been (involved) in a good era for achievements but there's always the dream of getting there," said midfielder Javier Mascherano, a Copa America runner-up with Argentina in 2004 and 2007.
"We must try to put Argentina back in a place they haven't been for a long time," he told reporters at the weekend.
With Argentina likely to take first place in the group, the key match for second should be Bosnia's clash on June 21 with Nigeria in muggy Cuiaba in the heart of the South American hinterland. A duel there could see Dzeko up against Enyeama as Bosnia look to crown their arrival on the biggest stage with a place in the last 16, a dream for fans of the nation that emerged from the ruins of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
Nigeria have their own dream of reaching the same stage for the first time since 1998 having been frustrated by Argentina in 2002 and again in 2010. Messi has a special relationship with the Nigerians, having beaten them in the final of the 2005 under-20 World Cup and 2008 Olympic gold medal match in Beijing.
It is the supporting cast, though, that will take players like Messi, Dzeko, striker Emmanuel Emenike of African champions Nigeria or, in a shock scenario, Iran's veteran multi-cap midfielder Javad Nekounam through to bigger things. Messi may be compared with Maradona, who is regarded as having almost singlehandedly won Argentina's second world title in Mexico in 1986, but he is part of a "Fab Four" attack.
Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel Di Maria join Messi up front in a gameplan that is based on outscoring the opposition with the back line seen as Argentina's weakness. Bosnia have managed to bring together a squad of talented players who grew up in many different parts of the world after their families escaped the war in the Balkans.
They have strong sense of belonging that has helped coach Safet Susic weld a team capable of upsetting the best on their day and this will be necessary in a side with their own defensive frailties.
(Reporting by Rex Gowar; editing by Justin Palmer)