6 Players to Watch on Day 10 of the 2014 World Cup
Day 10 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup sees another three mouthwatering group clashes from Brazil, with a whole host of eye-catching players on display for us to savour once again.
In Group F, leaders Argentina get proceedings underway as they take on Iran, while later on both Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be hoping for their first wins of the tournament.
Meanwhile, in between those two intriguing contests, Germany entertain Ghana in Group G in what looks like the standout fixture of the day.
And these are the six players to watch on Saturday at Brazil 2014.
Angel Di Maria (Argentina)
A win for Argentina over Iran in Group F on Saturday will see Alejandro Sabella’s men through to the knockout phase of the tournament, with Real Madrid midfielder Angel Di Maria set to play a leading role for the South Americans in Belo Horizonte.
Di Maria began his country’s opening match of the World Cup against Bosnia-Herzegovina on the left of the midfield as part of a 3-5-2 formation. While captain Lionel Messi rightfully took most of the post-match plaudits for his brilliant solo goal that won the match on Sunday, the 26-year-old also enjoyed an impressive start to the competition himself.
And while all eyes will be firmly fixed on the four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner at the Estadio Mineirao, Iran would be wise to think of ways to try to also stop the Blancos wide man from picking the ball up and running with pace at the right-hand side of their back four.
In fact, anyone who watched Di Maria record 17 assists in La Liga will know that when in full flight, the Argentinian can at times be virtually impossible to stop.
And as the London Evening Standard's Tom Collomosse said of the little winger:
For Messi and his fellow starting forwards, likely to be Aguero and Higuain, to shine at their brightest, the role of Di Maria is crucial. ...
... With Di Maria prompting from deep, or surging forward with the ball, there are even more reasons for opponents to worry. That should, in turn, provide even more space for Messi, Aguero and Higuain to work their magic.
So do not be at all surprised if it is Di Maria’s turn to shine for his country on this occasion.
There could be a shake-up in formation, after Messi suggested he would rather Argentina operate in a 4-3-3.
When asked about Messi's comments, Sabella said, per FIFA.com, "I was not hurt by Leo's comment and he has said that before. He likes to play 4-3-3 with Di Maria up front."
Ashkan Dejagah (Iran)
Ashkan Dejagah began Monday night’s goalless draw with Nigeria in Group F on the left-hand side of an attacking midfield three in support of lone frontman Reza Ghoochanneijhad as part of a 4-2-3-1 lineup. It's a position that the Fulham star will keep against Argentina at the Estadio Mineirao.
However, if Carlos Queiroz’s side are to stand any chance whatsoever of causing a monumental upset against their more fancied opponents on Saturday, then you really feel Dejagah will be the player to hurt the South Americans.
There were times for the relegated Cottagers last season that the exciting midfielder showed real class—Dejagah managed five goals and two assists in 22 Premier League contests—while the 27-year-old former Germany under-21 international was also involved in the few good moments his country enjoyed against Nigeria, too.
And with four goals already for Iran since making his international debut just over two years ago, this is very much a player who knows where the goal is. Argentina would be well-advised not to allow Dejagah either the time or space to shoot in Belo Horizonte.
In fact, this is a vital attribute of the player’s game that Everton manager Roberto Martinez recently highlighted in The Times (subscription required) when picking Dejagah out as Iran’s danger man.
Mario Goetze (Germany)
While virtually every German player stood out in their impressive 4-0 opening Group G win over Portugal on Monday, especially hat-trick hero Thomas Mueller, it was Mario Goetze's brilliant performance that really caught the eye.
The Bayern Munich starlet featured on the left of an exciting-looking front three that also comprised Mueller in the middle and Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil to the right, with Goetze creating both of his side’s first two goals in Salvador.
And every time the twinkle-toed 22-year-old picked up possession of the ball against the Portuguese, especially when in space, the pacy Goetze just seemed to make things happen.
However, it is both the attacking midfielder’s unselfishness and unrivalled ability to always seem to be able to pick out the right pass at the right time that makes Goetze such a dangerous player. In fact, former Germany captain Franz Beckenbauer even compared his compatriot to one Lionel Messi.
"He has the same understanding and technique, and he's a footballer who acts purely on his instincts - just like Messi," the World Cup-winning skipper and coach was quoted as saying, per the Daily Mail's Ben Gladwell.
"It's impossible to stop Mario Goetze. You just cannot play any better than him. He just strolls through as if there are no opponents."
If that is nor warning enough, Goetze is ready for battle.
"We don’t have many matches at this tournament, so we’re trying to go into each one of them with a high level of concentration," he told FIFA.com. "In these conditions it’s important to play rationally, stay focused and play football our way."
So, Ghana, be warned.
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
Asamoah Gyan went into Brazil 2014 on the back of a prolific campaign in front of goal for Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates. The red-hot striker managed to plunder 39 goals in just 36 matches in all competitions, including 29 goals in only 25 league outings.
And that confidence was clearly evident on Monday when Gyan helped set up the Black Stars’ goal in a 2-1 loss to USA with a quite magnificent back-heel straight into the path of goalscorer Andre Ayew.
Ghana are on the back foot, but Gyan, per Ghana Web, is determined to fight: "We are down yes, but we are not out. I have been down this road before and I know we can still make it but it won't be easy."
Consequently, Germany coach Joachim Low will no doubt have warned his back four to pay special attention to the 28-year-old throughout their Group G clash in Fortaleza on Saturday night, as Gyan is a player you do not want to take your eye off even for one second.
A quick and powerful forward who obviously knows his way to goal, the star of his country’s first-ever two World Cup campaigns in 2006 and 2010 will surely be desperate to make up for his penalty miss against Uruguay in the quarter-finals four years ago when Ghana go in search of the win they need at the Estadio Castelao.
And as Fiifi Anaman wrote in The Telegraph:
In the last three years, Gyan has scored more goals than he'd ever scored in all eight years of his career prior to. He has transformed into a beast helplessly hooked on goals. ...
... What Gyan's quotidian routine of scoring has done is that it has embedded goalscoring in his subconscious and grown his confidence massively. Sticking the ball at the back of the net is now an effortless art that is almost second nature to him.
But boy do Ghana need Baby Jet to hit the back of the net on Saturday night, though.
John Obi Mikel (Nigeria)
There is no doubt that Nigeria will look to their more experienced players to help them overcome Bosnia-Herzegovina in their crucial Group F showdown on Saturday, which means a key role for Chelsea holding midfielder John Obi Mikel in Cuiaba.
However, luckily for the Super Eagles, big matches seem to bring out the very best in Mikel. The 27-year-old was many people’s Man of the Match in the Blues’ UEFA Champions League final win over Bayern Munich in May 2012. He will once again sit in front of Nigeria’s back line putting out opposition fires at the Arena Pantanal.
And that is something Mikel has been doing with aplomb for both club and country for the past eight years now. Although much like Yaya Toure, the water carrier can, if necessary, also morph into a more attacking midfielder if the situation arises.
But with both sides in desperate need of all three points after failing to win their opening fixtures in the tournament, Mikel could be a busy man against the tiny Balkan nation.
Speaking after the draw with Iran, Mikel said, per FIFA.com:
We are very disappointed because the opening match is very important. We looked for the win, but Iran knew what we wanted to do and put 11 men behind the ball. They managed to stop us from playing our game. We’ll have to create more chances in our next match and be sharp in front of goal.
The Daily Mail’s Rik Sharma feels that the defensive midfielder's time is now. Sharma said Mikel is "approaching the peak of his career," adding, "Mikel is the best screen in front of the defence that Chelsea have - and is one of the best in the world at this role."
So what better time to prove this than against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday?
Edin Dzeko (Bosnia-Herzegovina)
You feel that if Bosnia-Herzegovina are to make it safely out of Group F, then it will be thanks to the goals of deadly Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, starting against Nigeria in Cuiaba on Saturday.
His importance to the team was stated by coach Safet Susic, who said via FIFA.com, "Dzeko is equally important to us as Ronaldo is for Portugal, as Neymar is to Brazil and as Messi is to Argentina."
While Dzeko may not have enjoyed one of his best games for his country as they marked their World Cup debut with a 2-1 loss to Argentina on Sunday, there is no doubting that if an opening does comes his way against the Super Eagles at the Arena Pantanal, then the always reliable 28-year-old will take it.
And that is because the forward—who is Bosnia’s all-time record goalscorer—is an arch predator with a real eye for goal. We saw that last season when Dzeko’s 16 strikes in just 31 Premier League appearances went a long way toward sealing the title for City.
So much so, in fact, that Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho even claimed the marksman should have been named the Player of the Year in England. Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Susic will surely have been working all week in training on how to provide Dzeko with a better quality of service against Nigeria, especially with the player once again set to be utilised as a lone frontman in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
But as Albinko Hasic said in the Metro:
Susic has recently changed the system to a solitary striker with five midfielders, putting even more pressure on his star man’s shoulders. He responded well, as he always does, with two goals in two matches. Throughout his career, Dzeko has always responded to a big challenge.
And there are none bigger than that now facing him and his fellow countrymen on Saturday.