2014 World Cup: Ranking the Top 5 Players for Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina will make their World Cup debut this summer with the likes of Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart), Miralem Pjanic (Roma) and Asmir Begovic (Stoke City) leading the charge for the Zmajevi.
Despite boasting a high-flying offense with 30 goals to their name during the qualification cycle, the Bosnians will hope to prove they are not solely a one-dimensional team.
Even though experience is not on their side, Bosnia and Herzegovina have plenty of veterans on Safet Susic's 24-man roster and a core that is hitting the peak of form at just the right time. Susic will hope his best players can carry their club form into the World Cup and translate it into results for the national team.
This list will rank the top five Bosnian national team players in terms of their contribution during the qualifiers, their overall talent level, their importance to the squad, as well as their overall form during the past club season.
Even though there are standouts, Bosnia and Herzegovina have played as a disciplined unit and as a team in the truest sense of the word. They will hope their unity stays intact and isn't shaken on football's biggest stage.
Just Missed the Cut: Haris Medunjanin, Sead Kolasinac & Vedad Ibisevic
Every team has its stars and pivotal players, but for Bosnia and Herzegovina, these are not always the same thing.
Even though they might not be household names pr play at top clubs, these three players have been crucial to Bosnia's qualification hopes, each bringing something different to the table and bringing stability to Safet Susic's roster, allowing him to find regularity and support his top players with a sense of normalcy.
Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), 29 years old, 34 caps, 5 goals
Born in Sarajevo but escaping his native country due to the war, Medunjanin took his first football steps in the Netherlands, even representing the country's Under-21 team with four caps and three goals.
In 2009, the Bosnian manager Miroslav Blazevic reached out to Medunjanin to represent his native Bosnia and Herzegovina. The rest is history.
Since his debut, Medunjanin has been an integral part of Bosnia's midfield, at times playing the traditional central midfield role, at times a defensive midfielder and other times on the wings. His technique and flexibility have made him a favorite with Safet Susic, who has often used him as a sole defensive midfielder in the 4-4-2 formation.
Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), 20 years old, 2 caps, 0 goals
Traditionally the defense has been the most problematic aspect of the Bosnian national team. The left-back situation in particular has been a revolving door, with Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim) and Senad Lulic (Lazio) alternating as the starters.
Neither of these players is a traditional left-back, leaving the defense exposed as both Salihovic and Lulic would rush to aid in attack or drift into midfield at times.
With the young Schalke starter Sead Kolasinac, Safet Susic has finally found his starting left-back. The player has recently emerged from the Schalke youth ranks, cementing himself as a starter in the Bundesliga and Champions League.
Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart), 29 years old, 51 caps, 20 goals
It's very hard to leave out a player who scores eight goals in World Cup 2014 qualification for his country.
Together with Edin Dzeko, the tandem's goal tally equalled 18 goals out of the total 30. Even harder, considering Ibisevic scored the crucial clinching goal against Lithuania that sent Bosnia and Herzegovina to its first World Cup in history.
Ibisevic has been a crucial part of Bosnia's team since his debut in 2007. The one-time St. Louis high school football player came a long way, playing all across Europe before finally landing in Stuttgart.
Since then, Ibisevic has failed to score a single goal, leading to early substitutions from the manager.
No. 5: Emir Spahic
Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), 34 years old, 72 caps, 3 goals
For Bosnian fans, it would be a scary exercise in imagination to consider what the defense would look like without their fearless captain Emir Spahic.
Despite being one of the oldest players on the squad, the charismatic leader is coming off a brilliant season for Bundesliga outfit Bayer Leverkusen.
According to WhoScored, Spahic has been Leverkusen's most consistent defender in terms of ratings, as well as man-of-the-match performances.
Spahic has played a total of 2996 minutes for the club this season, recording two goals and an assist. For the national team, Spahic is one of the most capped players in the country's history with 72 caps.
During the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, Spahic played in all 10 group stage matches, recording a full 900 minutes for his country, including an assist. Bosnia and Herzegovina only conceded six goals during the qualifiers, despite the defense frequently being pointed to as the team's biggest weakness.
Spahic was one of the main reasons why.
No. 4: Senad Lulic
Senad Lulic (Lazio), 28 years old, 33 caps, 1 goal
Bosnia's left winger and improvised left-back is coming off another spectacular season for Lazio.
Lulic played a total of 2844 minutes in all competitions for his club, accruing seven goals and three assists in the process. Last year, he helped Lazio win its sixth Coppa Italia by scoring the deciding goal in the 71st minute against fierce rivals Roma.
This season, Lulic has been one of Lazio's most consistent players, resulting in transfer rumors particularly linking him to Serie A rivals Juventus. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lulic has added a new dimension to their game since his debut in 2008.
During the World Cup 2014 qualifiers, Lulic played nine out of 10 group stage matches, alternating between left-back and left midfield with Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim). With the inclusion of Sead Kolasinac, Lulic is likely to be the starting left midfielder for the national team.
Lulic's speed, crossing ability and overall technical skill will be an immense plus for Bosnia and Herzegovina, attributes often wasted at the left-back position.
Lulic will be free to attack and aid the forwards when necessary instead of having to track back and defend, something that is not a particular strength for the player.
No. 3: Asmir Begovic
Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), 26 years old, 28 caps, 0 goals
Begovic is Bosnia and Herzegovina's undisputed No. 1 and, in many ways, the best goalkeeper the young nation has ever had.
The 26-year-old goalkeeper was almost lost to Canada but decided ultimately to represent his native-born Bosnia and Herzegovina, in part because of an experience that shook the player to his core, the death of his grandfather.
Begovic's consistency in goal has helped stabilize the team and improve the overall quality of the back line. For Stoke City, since gaining the No. 1 spot in 2012, Begovic has been praised as one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, even by legends such as Gordon Banks.
For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Asmir Begovic is not only one of the best players on the roster, and an essential part of the core, he's become a quiet leader.
During a particularly dark time in Bosnia's qualification campaign, when the team was down 0-1 away to Slovakia after having lost at home to Slovakia in the previous match, Begovic exploded at his teammates at half-time, inspiring an unbelievable 2-1 comeback.
The Bosnians will need Begovic to be at his best in Brazil if he is to make saves against some of the top strikers in the world.
No. 2: Miralem Pjanic
Miralem Pjanic (Roma), 24 years old, 46 caps, 8 goals
It's hard to imagine a 24-year-old player already having 46 caps under his belt for his country. But for a player of Miralem Pjanic's quality, nothing is impossible.
Pjanic has been one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's greatest additions in the last 10 years, transforming the team into a winning side together with the likes of Dzeko, Begovic, Lulic, Ibisevic and others.
Dubbed the "Little Prince" by the Roma fans, Pjanic has been a revelation in Serie A, considered one of the best midfielders in the league according to websites such as Squawka.
His breathtaking free-kick goals, solo effort golazos and perfectly placed assists have made the young player a hot commodity in Europe, with frequent suitors enquiring about Pjanic. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pjanic's importance cant be overstated.
Look for Pjanic to create chances and a little magic for the sole debutante at the World Cup.
No. 1: Edin Dzeko
Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), 28 years old, 60 caps, 33 goals
Coming off another Premier League-winning season, Edin Dzeko is the only player on the Bosnian team who can say he has the most goals in the country's history.
And it's bound to stay that way for quite some time. Often cited as Bosnia's greatest player ever, he's been the poster boy for the country for the last three campaigns.
Edin Dzeko scored 10 goals in World Cup 2014 qualification, only one below Europe's leader Robin van Persie.
Seemingly indestructible with his lack of injuries, Dzeko fully played all 10 of the group stage matches and even assisted six times. His club form has also been spectacular this season, scoring a total of 26 goals for Manchester City, 16 of them in the Premier League, with nine of them coming at the latter stage of the Premier League campaign.
Nine of his Premier League goals came at the very end of the season, with Sergio Aguero and Stevan Jovetic frequently out injured, and Alvaro Negredo out of form. Dzeko lifted Manchester City up and provided crucial goals that ensured a second title in three years for the club.
If Edin Dzeko continues his hot form in Brazil, opposing defenses are sure to get a run for their money.