Lionel Messi looked like a phantom for most of the match against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Aside from one moment of sheer brilliance, scoring the go-ahead goal, there was a shadow on him that kept him in check and rendered him ordinary for the majority of the 90 minutes.
Only months prior to the start of World Cup 2014 preparations, Ferencvaros Budapest player Muhamed Besic wasn't even on Safet Susic's radar. Nor on the radar of U21 Bosnia-Herzegovina manager Vlado Jagodic. He was a man in exile, both for club and country. However unlikely, Besic has emerged as one of Bosnia's key players and arguably the country's man of the match against Argentina.
Born in Berlin, 21-year-old Muhamed Besic never had any qualms about his national team selection. In numerous interviews, he vehemently stated (Serbian outlet B92) that he only wanted to represent the country he loved, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Coming through the Hamburger SV system, Besic was highly praised as a defensive gem and perhaps even a future key component of Germany's defense. It wasn't meant to be. Despite solid performances for HSV II, and even three caps for the senior side, an argument with manager Torsten Fink resulted in Besic's transfer to Hungarian side Ferencváros Budapest in 2012.
In the meantime, Besic made his debut for Bosnia's U21 team, and in November of 2010 for the senior side, becoming the country's youngest player to do so, a record which was previously held by Miralem Pjanic. Alternating between the U21 team and the senior team, Besic got into another disagreement, this time with the U21 coach Jagodic. After a year away from both the national team system, and his former club in Germany, Besic honed his skills in Hungary, quickly becoming one of the league's best players.
In an interview for BHDragons.com, Hungarian football expert Tomasz Mortimer stated, “I see him playing for someone like Hamburg again, definitely. He really is well above the rest in our league and seems to have calmed down off the field which is great! He’ll leave in the summer without a doubt.” Mortimer's words proved prophetic as Besic, following a public apology, was recalled into the national team fold.
Who would have guessed that Susic had grand plans in mind for young Besic. At one point, Susic even stated (per B92) that Besic is the only player on the squad that can truly man-mark Lionel Messi.
After a year out, Besic became an integral part of Susic's team, who changed the formation to a 4-2-3-1 from the 4-4-2 he utilized during the World Cup 2014 qualifiers. Even though the 4-4-2 system with Edin Dzeko (Manchester City) and Vedad Ibisevic (Stuttgart) as the striking tandem yielded 30 goals, and 18 between the two strikers, Susic needed to balance the midfield.
Weary of the jump in quality from teams they faced in the qualifiers to the World Cup, Susic opted to include Besic at the defensive midfield role, playing alongside Pjanic. From zero to hero, Besic proved his worth in two pre-World Cup 2014 fixtures against the Ivory Coast and Mexico, both wins, thanks in part to impressive performances from Besic.
Even though Besic had raised eyebrows and performed well above expectations, there was still a question if Susic would truly start such a young player in Bosnia's debut World Cup match. Not only did Besic start, he became one of Bosnia's key players, shadowing Argentina's Lionel Messi at every turn.
Even though Messi scored the winning goal against Bosnia, Besic rendered the Barcelona player invisible for most of the match. "Messi's Shadow," soon became an internet sensation in his home country. Fans took to the Internet to feature Besic in a series of memes where the player photo bombs Messi's selfie pictures, like a creeping ninja, shadowing him even after the match.
One thing is certain, Susic has done well to change Bosnia's formation to a 4-2-3-1, effectively balancing the team's already potent attack with some defensive insurance, on the back of young Besic. The player has already proved his worth and if he continues at this rate, Bosnia's young exile could become the country's unlikely hero.