Bosnia-Herzegovina were supposed to play the supporting act in the World Cup opener to Lionel Messi and his Argentina.
However, their performance was way beyond that, the Dragons proving once again that they are not in Brazil by accident. Despite the 2-1 loss and some old flaws that proved costly, there were plenty of positives for Bosnia-Herzegovina and they have something to hope for in the next two matches against Nigeria and Iran.
The match against Argentina was the debut for the Dragons not just at the World Cup, but in any major tournament. The inexperience obviously caused nervousness and the Bosnians opened their World Cup challenge in disappointing fashion. Sead Kolasinac's third-minute own goal was a direct result of the jitters and nervousness that could be cut with the knife at the Maracana Stadium. The Bosnians were impressed, in awe maybe, by the big stage and the fact that they had finally reached it. They paid a huge price for it.
However, all this can be seen as the first positive for Safet Susic and his team. Such a horror start could easily have destroyed their whole tournament, but the Bosnians did not allow it to affect them. They did not lost their shape and focus, instead they made a rapid recovery to more than match Argentina.
Susic deployed his expected version of the 4-2-3-1 system, with his holding midfielder Muhamed Besic in a specific role of controlling Messi. The Berlin-born 22-year-old defender, who plays for Hungarian side Ferencvaros, impressed with his performance, shutting down Messi for most of the first half. Defensively, Bosnia-Herzegovina looked aggressive, determined and quite disciplined in the first half, almost completely neutralising the opposition.
However, some of this has been lacking in their attacking game. Argentina looked vulnerable with their three/five at the back, but the Bosnians failed to exploit their flaws properly. Even though Zvjezdan Misimovic performed well in the first half, there was an impression that in a way he chokes Miralem Pjanic, who was forced to operate deeper than he should have done.
By the way Pjanic is some player for Bosnia. Been talked about by so many EPL clubs surely one will snap him up— Jason Burt (@JBurtTelegraph) June 15, 2014
The contribution of two wingers Senad Lulic and Izet Hajrovic could have been better as well, and all this left Edin Dzeko cut off and almost unused.
If the nervousness was the problem in the first half, then the reaction to Argentina’s tactical changes can be blamed for bad periods in the second half.
It is to the Bosnians' credit that Argentina were forced to make structural changes at the break. Argentina's changes did work for them, with Messi looking like a different player who was rewarded with a stunning goal.
With late substitutions, Susic failed to break the opponents' rhythm, allowing Argentina to reorganise and retake control.
Still, Bosnia-Herzegovina exited the Maracana with more positives than negatives. Showing maturity with the way they recovered after the early own goal was the first, but the wind they will have in their sails after competing—and in some parts of the match outplaying—Argentina will be the most important for the matches to come, as Susic said in an interview on national TV (in Bosnian) after the match.
"We must stay realistic. This was a match where we tried to be a good opponent to the team that is one of the title favourites.
Now we are waiting for the important matches. I think that, at the end, we have nothing to be disappointed for."
And he was right. The Bosnians have some things to change, some to improve, but overall, they have nothing to be ashamed of after their first ever match in the World Cup.
They proved to the world—and themselves—that they are capable of making big things and now they have to confirm where it counts: In the battle for the second place in the group.