5 Reasons Why Bosnia and Herzegovina Will Shine at the World Cup
When Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for their first World Cup since the formation of the football federation in the early 1990s, many assumed the boys from the Balkans were simply happy to have finally made it through to a major competition. After several failed campaigns, including two in a row that were lost in the playoffs against Portugal, qualification already seemed like a monumental achievement for the small nation. However, the Dragons had grander plans in mind.
"We are not going to Brazil simply as tourists or to take notes. We want to succeed and advance," said Safet Susic, per B92.
With the whole nation supporting its heroes and treating them more like diplomats than athletes, Bosnia and Herzegovina will want to set a positive precedent for the country as the sole debutant at the World Cup. With an improved defensive line, plenty of quality at its core and attacking power to spare, the Dragons will have their chances.
No. 5: A Much-Improved Defense
Being drawn into Group F with Argentina, Iran, and Nigeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have their fair share of work cut out for them. The attacking prowess of Argentina is one of the best in the world, and they are a favorite to lift the trophy when all is said and done.
In the past, defense was pointed to as Bosnia and Herzegovina's biggest weakness, and something that could be exploited by opposing teams. Often improvising, the country had no real answer for the hole at the left-back position, with midfield players such as Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim) or Senad Lulic (Lazio) frequently rotating.
Their salvation came from the Bundesliga, as it so often does for the Bosnian national team with its long tradition of German-based national team players. Schalke's 20-year-old starting left-back Sead Kolasinac has been a revelation for the national team with his size, speed and defensive ability. Safet Susic has finally found his starting left-back and does not have to improvise or restrict his midfielders to such a role.
In addition, the inclusion of Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig) means a reliable partner for captain Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen) at the central defensive position. The Bosnians will still have plenty to worry about with the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and others barreling their way, but now, the Achilles' heel has been bandaged significantly. After all, they only conceded six goals in all 10 qualification matches.
No. 4: A Quality Core
Bosnia and Herzegovina have been a work in progress with an accumulation of talent and resources over several campaigns. When Miroslav "Ciro" Blazevic took over as manager at the beginning of the 2010 World Cup campaign, the team was in ruins and had a serious deficiency in talent. Slowly, new players joined the cause, such as Stoke City's goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, who made the switch from Canada.
With the likes of Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart) and Senad Lulic (Lazio), as well as veterans Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhou Renhe) and Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Bosnia and Herzegovina have a real core of talented players who have been together for a series of campaigns.
The majority of the "core" players have played in most of the World Cup 2014 qualification matches, cementing their relationship on the field over a series of campaigns. Most of Bosnia's starting 11 play in one of the top five European leagues, which has helped them yield one of the best goal ratios in Europe during the qualifiers.
No. 3: Chemistry and Depth
Even though the team has some notable new additions to the team, for the most part, Safet Susic has favored a central group of players who have built ever-increasing chemistry in successive campaigns. Bosnia and Herzegovina achieved their best result first in World Cup 2010 qualification when they finished second in their group behind Spain and faced Portugal in the playoff round. Even though the Bosnians eventually bowed out, including in the following campaign for Euro 2012—again against Portugal in the qualifiers—their experience has been building steadily.
Veterans such as Emir Spahic (33), Zvjezdan Misimovic (31), Sejad Salihovic (30) and Mensur Mujdza (30) are the oldest players on Susic's 24-man roster. They will provide real leadership and experience despite never having played at a major tournament.
Between Dzeko, Ibisevic, Spahic, Misimovic, Ibricic, Lulic, Medunjanin, Salihovic, Spahic, Begovic and even young Pjanic, the group has a combined total of 487 caps. Such experience may not translate to results, but the Bosnians are certainly no newcomers to high-profile football.
No. 2: Brazil's Cinderella Story
When Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified for their first World Cup since the bloody war of the 1990s, football seemed to heal wounds that many thought would never be healed. Thousands of fans came out to the streets of Sarajevo to welcome back their heroes from the deciding match in Lithuania and chanted in unison "Vi Ste, Vi Ste, Ponos Nacije!" (or "You Are, You Are, the Pride of the Nation").
The players, overlooking the crowd on a balcony in the central square, chanted the same back to the crowd.
Every nation at the World Cup will have its own unique story to tell, each special for its own way. But for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the qualification was more than just another World Cup; it meant everything to a country that is football crazy and that desperately wants to be portrayed in a positive light on the world stage.
The Bosnian players are very aware of what they have accomplished, and they are bound to carry the spirit of the achievement to the World Cup and build upon the history they already created. Added motivation has never hurt.
No. 1: Attacking Power to Spare
In World Cup 2014 qualification, Bosnia and Herzegovina scored an incredible 30 goals in group-stage play, good enough to be in Europe's top four in terms of goal scored and goal differential behind Germany, the Netherlands and England.
At the heart of the achievement were the players and manager Safet Susic's philosophy of attacking at all costs. Even though the Bosnian defense improved significantly, conceding only six goals in 10 matches, it was the offense that carried the day.
The two starting strikers in Susic's 4-4-2 formation, Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) and Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart), combined for a total of 18 goals; they were the best tandem in Europe. Dzeko was one goal shy of tying Europe's leading qualification goalscorer Robin van Persie (11). Seasoned midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic added five to account for a total of 23 out of the 30 total goals that the team scored.
With a midfield that is hitting its peak behind them, including Roman boys Senad Lulic (Lazio), and Miralem Pjanic (Roma), the forwards will have plenty of service up front and make the most of their opportunities. Look for Bosnia and Herzegovina to play some of the most free-flowing and attack-oriented football at the World Cup.
If there is any reason to root for them, it's that.