Bosnia-Herzegovina vs. Argentina: Key Decisions for Safet Susic
The people of Bosnia-Herzegovina are counting the hours to the moment when their national team will line up at the World Cup for the first time in the country's history.
Even though this will be their debut in a major football tournament, there is no pressure on the Dragons.
Expectations back home are big, but, ultimately, most Bosnians are aware of the team's limitations and simply reaching the World Cup is a victory for a country that exited the war less then 20 years ago.
However, one person who will absorb the pressure is Bosnia head coach Safet Susic. Public opinion on the iconic player as a coach is often split between praise for his achievement and criticism for tactical naivety.
Sergio Aguero scored twice when Argentina won the last match between the two sides in a friendly in St Louis, Missouri in November. Even without Lionel Messi, the South American side dominated that match, exposing all the flaws Susic's team have.
Now the Bosnia coach has a chance to prove himself on the biggest stage, but can he surprise his opposite number Alejandro Sabella just seven months after they first met?
Here are some key decisions for Susic ahead of the Argentina match on Sunday.
Learning to Adapt the Bosnia System
For the last two years, Susic has stuck to a 4-4-2 system because he wanted to play both Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic.
In the qualifying campaign, that tactic looked great against teams like Lithuania, Latvia or Lichtenstein. It paid off against Greece as well, but in the rest of the matches, including the friendlies against more difficult opposition, Bosnia-Herzegovina have struggled.
The friendly matches against Argentina and Egypt obviously alarmed Susic, and he switched his team's shape. The fact that Ibisevic suffered a dip in form helped, and he was left on the bench for the two most recent World Cup warm-up matches, with Susic introducing an additional man in midfield.
Susic is now expected to deploy a 4-2-3-1, which means we are likely to see a much more cautious Bosnia-Herzegovina than the one from the qualifiers.
Bosnia Must Be Ready for Potential Early Blow
Argentina will be looking to impose their own way of playing on the match as quickly as possible on Sunday.
However, Bosnia will be hugely motivated for their first World Cup finals game, and will be looking to stifle their opponents.
Argentina will attack from the start and the outcome will largely depend on the Bosnian reaction. An early goal against Susic's side could affect confidence for the rest of the tournament.
Susic is the only member of the backroom team with World Cup experience, after playing for Yugoslavia in 1982 and 1990. He must find a way to prepare his team to neutralise an early goal against.
Defensive Questions Offer Selection Headache
Bosnia-Herzegovina completed their qualifiers with what looked like a first-choice pair of centre-backs in Emir Spahic and Ermin Bicakcic.
Team captain Spahic will be an undisputed choice, but the injury that Bicakcic suffered just before the start of the preparations changed the situation for him. The defender, who has moved from Braunschweig to Hoffenheim this summer, claims he is fit to play. Will Susic be convinced?
Susic has improvised at left-back, where Sejad Salihovic is supposed to start. He moved the only natural left-back, Sead Kolasinac, into central defence.
Before the emergence of Kolasinac, Salihovic was the one to take the left-back role, but that often looked like the weakest link Bosnia had.
To make the problem bigger, Salihovic was injured two days ago and his participation is questionable, forcing Susic to think about what seemed to be the first option.
His remaining alternatives—Toni Sunjic and Ognjen Vranjes—are far from the top level, which could prove to be a headache for the Bosnia coach.
Which Midfield Shape Will Best Fit Bosnia vs. Argentina
Now that Susic converted his system to play with five in the middle, the key decision should be the positioning of Miralem Pjanic within it.
Roma's creative midfielder has often been a victim of Susic's plan that almost always includes veteran Zvjezdan Misimovic. The former Wolfsburg star, who now plays in the Chinese league, takes the central position, forcing Pjanic to move either right or deeper.
Galatasaray's Izet Hajrovic is in good form and will probably start on the right, while Senad Lulic will be on the left. That means that there is a place in the middle for just one of two creative players, and that will be Misimovic.
As a result, Pjanic will start deeper, next to the holding midfielder Muhamed Besic. But this could be a double-edged sword for Bosnia.
Pjanic can be a very useful player for Bosnia in a forward role, but his contribution to the defence is less significant.
The other important thing here is the imbalance that occurs in the middle. Often Pjanic and Besic end up neutralising each other, sitting in each other's lap and slowing the game down.
Results so far have shown that giving Pjanic a central role provides a better outlook for Bosnia, but Susic seems convinced that playing both benefits his team.
Edin Dzeko Must Seize Every Opportunity
This is quite simple but extremely important for Susic and Bosnia—Edin Dzeko must be in good form.
Bosnia will probably not create many chances, but Argentina's defence is not the strongest part of their team.
To ensure a positive outcome, Bosnia will have to be extremely efficient and use every chance that comes their way.
Undoubtedly, their best choice up front is Manchester City striker Dzeko, who finished the Premier League season in good form as the Etihad Stadium club clinched the title.
Bosnians can only hope that he has brought the same goal-scoring boots to Brazil as well.