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World Cup: Argentina vs. Iran - Match Preview

Kickoff is not far away as Argentina will want to extend their winning streak against an unfancied but resilient Iran squad. All eyes are on Barcelona's Lionel Messi, who will look to put his name in consecutive World Cup scoring sheets for the first time. Javier Mascherano should pick up his 100th cap.

Jamie Squire

Argentina starting XI: Romero; Zabaleta, Fede Fernandez, Garay, Rojo; Gago, Mascherano, Di María; Messi, Higuaín, Agüero (4-3-3)

Argentina come into the game riding a good result against what was expected to be the toughest opponent, Bosnia-Herzegovina. It's true that Argentina are massive favorites, but it'd be a mistake to completely write off Iran. They've shown they can defend deep and compact, and frustrated Nigeria into a 0-0 draw.

They will hope they can contain and then possibly shock via a counterattack or set piece. The problem is Argentina's forward line is much more talented than Nigeria's.

Speaking of Argentina's forward line, coach Alejandro Sabella has returned to the 4-3-3 formation, with Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain coming into the lineup. This is the same lineup that Sabella used for the second half against Bosnia, in which the Albiceleste performed much better.

Lionel Messi publicly spoke out in support of the 4-3-3, fueling speculations of a feud between him and the coach. Backup goalkeeper Mariano Andujar said this was not the case. He was supported by veteran defender Martin Demichelis, who reasoned that if Messi were in charge, his friend Ever Banega would be in the squad. Instead, Sabella cut Banega, to Messi's surprise.

The coach himself weighed in, saying he was not bothered in the slightest by Messi's comments. And why should he be? Almost everyone agreed that playing 5-3-2 against Bosnia was a mistake. It remains an alternative, but the 4-3-3 should be the main option from now - if it wasn't already.

A win would set up Argentina quite nicely going into the final round. On six points, their qualification would be assured, and they would only need to draw against Nigeria to win the group. They could even lose against Nigeria and still win the group - depending on other results.

Sabella has emphasized rest as an important factor in winning the World Cup, and getting ahead early in this game would maximize the chances of giving some time off to the likes of Gago and Higuain. But overconfidence could be Argentina's downfall.

With France likely to top group E, the runners-up of group F will be in a complicated position. The French are in red-hot form and would make a much more intimidating opponent should Argentina finish second. If the Albicelestes top the group, however, they would face a much easier team (on paper), likely Ecuador or Switzerland.

Not much will change from the second half of the previous game. Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero, Sabella's biggest gambles in the starting XI, will want to show up with good performances again. Javier Mascherano, earning his 100th cap, will shield the defenders and deliver long balls. He will hope his 100th game with the national team will fare better than Andres Iniesta's.

Gago will be tasked with connecting midfield and attack through clever positioning and passing. Meanwhile, Angel Di Maria will want to improve upon a lukewarm first game. Upfront, Higuain, Sergio Aguero, and Messi's understanding will be critical. They may not have many chances to counter attack and thus will need to find either a clever, intricate pattern to break down the proverbial bus... or one big play that opens up Iran.

Can Iran shock the world?

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