The major players advanced to the second round from Group F, yet an encouraging debut for Bosnia-Herzegovina highlighted an entertaining set of matches.
MESSI ON THE MARK.As expected, Argentina won the group, though its struggles against a packed defense in a 1-0 defeat of Iran and the robust, athletic thrusts of Nigeria in a 3-2 victory gave future opponents ample factors to incorporate and critics a few perceived flaws to investigate.
Questions regarding Argentina coming into the competition centered on the team’s aging core, especially in defense, and whether the cast supporting superstar Lionel Messi could shoulder the burden. He scored in every game, perhaps most dramatically in stoppage time against Iran, when he picked up the ball on the right flank and darted into the middle to unleash a shot inside the far post.
Though Argentina blanked Iran, which defended stoutly and seldom pushed forward, it conceded an equalizer to Nigeria a minute after Messi punched home a rebound in the third minute, and again shortly after halftime following a superb Messi free kick in first-half stoppage time that restored the lead. Argentina also took an early lead in the group opener against Bosnia-Herzegovina via an own goal stemming from a Messi service, and he scored the eventual winner with a goal of such quality just about everyone in the crowd at Maracana rose to celebrate.
A member of the supporting cast came through when Marcos Rojo bundled home a corner kick to register his first international goal that sealed victory against Nigeria, and subs Fernando Gago and Gonzalo Higuain helped forge the defeat of Bosnia–Herzegovina.
BAD LUCK FOR BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. The first-ever World Cup appearance for this small country carved out of the former Yugoslavia started terribly when Sead Kolisinac scored the quickest own goal in the tournament’s history two minutes and eight seconds into the opener against Argentina, and the rough luck continued when a legitimate Edin Dzeko goal against Nigeria was incorrectly annulled for offside in the second group game.
Peter Odemwingie scored for Nigeria eight minutes after the disallowed goal and by the 1-0 result Bosnia-Herzegovina was eliminated before playing its final group game against Iran, which it won impressively, 3-1. Dzeko finally got a goal midway through the first half, Miralem Pjanicpunctuated his solid tournament by scoring the second, and Avdija Vrsajevicstrode forth from the back line to get the third.
Vedad Ibisevic, who attended high school in St. Louis and played college soccer at SLU, bears the honor of scoring his country’s first World Cup goal, and against Argentina no less. He raced through to nutmeg Argentine keeper Claudio Bravo with five minutes remaining and force the two-time world champion to concentrate as it rode out a victory.
BEITASHOUR BLANKED. Northern California product Steven Beitashour, who played collegiately at San Diego State and started his pro career in San Jose before being traded to Vancouver this past winter, did not play in any of Iran's three games. He had earned six caps after being contacted by head coach Carlos Quieroz.