Group B has a clear-cut favorite in Argentina and a heavy favorite to come in second in Nigeria. Argentina has arguably the best player in the world at this time in Lionel Messi. The 5-foot-7 forward has excelled in club play with Barcelona, scoring 34 goals in 30 games in league competition. Messi will be called upon to carry the team, and he should be able to deliver.
Argentina should cruise through this group with the only tough opponent coming in their opener against Nigeria. Argentinean coach Diego Maradona, one of the best players of his time, might be the only weak link in an otherwise great team. The manager has made questionable decisions considering his team’s lineup in the qualifying round which lead to a bumpier road than expected for the two-time World Champions.
A draw or loss in their first match against Nigeria could lead to Maradona panicking and making ill-advised decisions in the remaining two matches against South Korea and Greece. Maradona has made headlines with his comments rather than with great coaching. He promised to run naked through the streets of Buenos Aires, should the Argentineans win their third World Cup title.
Nigeria should be able to finish in second place in Group B easily. The Super Eagles have been successful in the African Nations Cup, an increasingly competitive tournament of the best squads in Africa. They won the cup twice (in 1980 and 1994), took second in 2000, and finished third in 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2010. They are a relatively new team to the World Cup having made only three appearances.
They made it out of the group stage on their first try in 1994 and shocked Spain when they beat the soccer powerhouse 3-2 in the group stage of the 1998 cup. They did not advance to the knockout stage in 2004 and barely missed qualifying for the 2006 World Cup in an increasingly tough African qualifying region.
The Eagles played strong in their qualifiers. They finished with a 6-0 record in the second round of qualifying matches, outscoring their opponents 18-1. Nigeria also went undefeated in the second stage, recording three wins and three draws.
Headcoach Lars Lagerback’s team plays a more defensive style than most other African squads. Their strategy in the matchup with Argentina might be to go for a draw and bank on getting at least a win and a draw in the other two matches.
Greece is far removed from its surprise victory at the European Championships (Euro) 2004. This is only their second appearance in the World Cup, their first one coming in the 1994 tournament. They lost all three of their matches in the group stage in 94 without scoring a single goal.
Greece had a good qualifying round in a weak group in the European region. Their only serious competition came in the Swiss national squad, who beat the Greek twice.
South Korea surprised in the 2002 World Cup, which they co-hosted with Japan. They beat Portugal, Italy, and Spain in a strong run to the semi-finals. They ended up taking fourth place in the tournament.
South Korea returned to the World Cup in 2006, but didn’t make it out of the group stage. They did, however, record their first win in a World Cup match outside of the Asian continent when they beat Togo 2-1
The team won their group in the final round of qualifying with four wins and four draws, outscoring opponents 12-4. They beat Saudi Arabia for the first time in 19 years on their way to the World Cup final tournament.
There are no surprises in the lines for Group B. Pinnacle has Argentina as the heavy favorite to win the group at -221. Nigeria offers good value to win the group at +505. If they can shock Argentina in the opening match, they have a shot at winning the group. They should cruise through their matches against South Korea and Greece.
If you are feeling lucky, you could look at South Korea advancing, which Pinnacle offers at +250. They are the definite long shot in the group, but in my opinion they have a better chance to surprise than Greece has. They would need Argentina or Nigeria to implode, but in a short tournament like this, a lot can happen.