For the first time in their history, Bosnia and Herzegovina will play at major football tournament, the World cup in Brazil. The Dragons dominated their qualifying group, losing only once in 10 matches and securing their spot in Brazil with 30 goals scored and only six conceded. The Bosnians will be the only debutantes at this World Cup, and here we try to predict the starting XI for their opening match against Argentina.
When it comes to Bosnian, the most important questions is: What system will Safet Susic play?
Bosnia marched through qualifiers playing with both Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic up front and with a midfield packed with offensive-minded players. However, in friendlies against solid opponents like Argentina, Brazil, the U.S. or even Slovakia and Egypt, all the flaws of this strategy surfaced. Lack of balance and improvisation with positions sometimes resulted in chaos and Bosnia often looked tactically naive.
In a way, Susic is forced to improvise because this team is limited in quality and there is huge gap between first-choice players and their deputies. Only Pape, as Susic is nicknamed in Bosnia, knows the answer, but it would logical to expect him to be more pragmatic and adjust his system to the opponents. The first match Bosnia and Herzegovina will play at the legendary Maracana Stadium on June 15 against Argentina.
Stoke City stopper is the undisputed No. 1. Begovic, who flourished in the Premier league after he swapped Portsmouth for Stoke in 2010, was between the sticks in all 10 qualifiers, conceding six goals. He had a very good season in England that was interrupted with an injury when he broke a finger just before the New Year. However, he is now back in form and his place in goal at Maracana Stadium is more than secure. What may concern Susic is lack of competition in the position—Jasmin Fejzic plays in the German 2. Bundesliga, while third-choice Asmir Avdukic is the only player from the Bosnia-Herzegovinian Premier League.
Experienced Mujdza is Susic's first choice, but the important question is—will he going to be ready? The Freiburg defender spent most of the season on the injury list. In 2014, his playing time was reduced to five Bundesliga matches and less than 400 minutes of competitive football. The doctors are optimistic that he will be ready for the summer, but Bosnia's friendly against Egypt confirmed that his form is far from good. More bad news is the fact that Bosnia has no proper alternative—Avdija Vrsajevic was the one to fill the gap in the qualifiers, but his performances confirmed his lack of quality.
Exactly one year before the World Cup, Kolasinac was still wearing the Germany shirt and representing the country of his birth in Under-21 qualifiers. But after he made his debut for his parents' homeland, Kolasinac cemented his place in the Bosnian starting XI. Bosnia were struggling with left-back for years and this was like a gift from the sky—Kolasinac is a solid defender with a huge fighting spirit and dedication. He earned himself the nickname "The Destroyer" and became a fan favorite overnight. The youngster could be the one to watch on the Dragons.
Spahic captained the team through the qualifiers and his experience makes him the indispensable part of team's spine. He is an authoritative defender and a true leader of this team and his place on the team sheet is certain. However, a solid centre-back is often in trouble with disciplinary records. Collecting cards can be a dangerous hobby at the tournament.
Who will be Spahic's partner in front of goalkeeper Begović? A couple of different players are on the fringes of the team were given their chances in the last two years, but it looks like Bicakcic is closest to the Maracana. He made his debut last year against the U.S. and has since secured his place in Bosnia's defense. He is not the fastest player you have seen—and that is gently put—but Bicakcic is still the best choice Susic has.
One thing should be clear. Bosnia and Herzegovina does not have a natural defensive midfielder. They are compelled to improvise and that is rarely good. Veteran Elvir Rahimic (CSKA Moscow) was the answer to the problem, but he is now 39 and rarely playing competitive football. What will be the solution—and it will probably be different for different matches—is almost impossible to predict, but not many expect Susic to play with one holding midfielder in the opening game versus Argentina. Pairing Hoffenheim's mighty left-back Sejad Salihović with former Dutch U-21 Medunjanin seems like the most probable option. In any case, neither of them is used to this role, at least not enough to play it on the top level, and Bosnia could have a lot of trouble with transitioning to defence when they lose the ball.
Bosnia's biggest strengths and biggest weaknesses are in midfield. When they have the ball, this team can be extremely creative with numerous options opening up front. This is how Bosnia dominated their qualifying matches—controlling the ball and executing every chance they created. But against stronger opponents, the offensive-minded midfield becomes a huge vulnerability.
Lulic will probably play on the left, where he works best, while Pjanic will have to compromise with moving right and giving the key central role to veteran Misimovic. The question many ask is, can they work together? Again, when in possession, this Bosnia will be very dangerous, as they proved in their qualifying group, but the transition to defense can be fatal for them.
For the past two seasons, Dzeko's performances for both club and country were often questioned. Many criticised him for lack of commitment, pace or fighting spirit. But when it comes to the national team, the numbers say more than anything. With 33 goals in 60 matches, Dzeko is the top scorer in the history of the country. Ten of his goals came in the qualifying campaign, which makes him probably most responsible for Bosnia reaching their first major tournament since independence. He was often paired with Vedad Ibisevic, but it is difficult to expect Susic to play Argentina with two strikers, which leaves Dzeko as the No. 1 choice up front. Obviously, a lot will depend on Dzeko's form this summer—if he finds his scoring tally, everything is possible.