5 Challenges for Bosnia-Herzegovina in Euro 2016 Qualifying
For most of Bosnia-Herzegovina's players, vacation started earlier than expected this summer. The Dragons had hoped to advance to the knockout stages of the World Cup, but the loss to Nigeria ended their tournament and gave them some time to rest before next season.
After the line was drawn, the most of the experts and the players agreed on one thing—that this World Cup was a great experience for Bosnia-Herzegovina and that they learned how to cope with a big tournament.
As Asmir Begovic says on his official website in English, most of the top sides have players with big-game experience—be it the major tournaments, or the Champions League—so they have the know-how to win in these high-pressure situations.
The World Cup in Brazil was the first major tournament for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and when they enter the Euro 2016 qualifiers in September, their goals will be changed. After introducing themselves on the big stage, the Dragons want to stay there.
Here are five things they will have to look at to make this happen.
The Question of the Coach
Should I stay or should I go? Safet Susic still does not know the answer to this question. The Bosnian boss—who took over the team in December 2009 and made history books in becoming the first coach to take Bosnia-Herzegovina to a major competition—ended his reign on the last day of June, when his contract expired.
The Federation has shyly hinted that they could offer him a new contract, and Susic seems interested, but the problem could be the fact that he lost most of the fans' support. Also, Susic's control over the locker room seems to be shaken, and the question is how he would restore it before the start of the next qualification campaign.
As much as Susic's reappointment would be a double-edged sword, it would be the same with a new coach. While the media speculate that former Olympiakos coach Dusan Bajevic could be a favorite, the fans are hoping that Vahid Halilhodzic will decide to return to his homeland. Of course, some other names were mentioned as well, but the fact as, any new coach would need time to adjust to the team and likewise.
For Bosnia-Herzegovina, the qualifiers start in September with the home match against Cyprus, and the Football Federation will have to act fast and decide on the name of the future coach.
Changes Needed in Both Style and Squad
Susic was often criticized for tactical naivete that was once again highlighted in this World Cup. However, even if they change the coach, the Bosnians will have to face the fact that they lost one of their strongest weapons—surprise.
Bosnia wanted to reach the big stage and now that they made it there, the opposition will hardly underestimate them anymore. Their performances in the World Cup, as well as the promotion of the young individuals like Muhamed Besic or Toni Sunjic, neutralized the advantage that they had while considered to be a lower league of European football.
They preferred attractive attacking football for the last four years, but it seems like Susic’s plan is now predictable, and Bosnia has to show that they have alternatives.
The World Cup was also a confirmation of the old issues that Bosnia-Herzegovina has with the depth of its squad. Of course, considering how small Bosnia is and that some decide to play for other countries, it will always be something to expect. However, the new (or old) coach will have to start a search and bring some fresh legs in to this team. In his time, Susic introduced some new players, but was not fond of scouting the players and that should change.
It seems that the first addition to the team could be Standard Liege's defender Dino Arslanagic (21), who represented Belgium in the youth categories, but later decided to switch nationalities. The Bosnians are hoping that other prospects could take the same steps.
How to Cope with a Tough Draw
World Cup euphoria obviously has taken over the nation—including the team and the coach—in last few months and they did not care about the qualifiers too much. Bosnians are convinced that they are good enough to easily win one of the two spots and directly advance to Euro 2016, but they overlooked a quite tough draw that was awarded to them.
The Dragons will open the campaign at home, probably in Zenica, where they will host mediocre Cyprus in September, but the rest of the matches in 2014 are anything but easy.
On 10 October Bosnia-Herzegovina will play Gareth Bale and Wales before hosting superb Belgium three days later. In November the Bosnians travel again, this time to Tel Aviv.
Those are three extremely difficult matches that could easily decide Bosnia's destiny in these qualifiers, but it does not seem like they are aware of it. Underestimating the opponent is a sort of tradition in the Balkans and it would not be surprise if Bosnia pays a price for that.
The First Test—Gareth Bale!
Bosnia-Herzegovina opens qualification against Cyprus at home, but their first proper test will be a visit to Wales in October.
The Bosnians were top-seeded in the draw and the nation expects them to dominate in the matches like this and routinely win one of the two spots that would have them qualified for the final tournament. In August 2012, Bosnia-Herzegovina, with nine players that played at the recent World Cup and will probably take part in the qualifiers, easily beat Wales in the friendly, demonstrating the gap in the quality between two sides.
Of course, a lot has changed in last two years and the Welsh will be one of the most serious challenges for Bosnia in the next two years. The Dragons—the home ones—will be extremely motivated, with huge knowledge of Bosnia, and the guests will have to be at their best to show that they are a different class—as they think they are. Almost the same goes for Israel, a team that can be very dangerous if underestimated.
One of the weak links in this Bosnian team is the slow back four; the fact that Nigeria exploited to its maximum. Facing Gareth Bale will be a tough task for them, if they don't change something drastically. The Real Madrid star could easily provide us with the answer to the question of whether Bosnia is good enough to play in the next major tournament.
How to Stop Les Diables Rouges?
In this World Cup we are witnessing one of the best generations of the Belgium national team in a long time, and Bosnians are watching them with justified fear.
Marc Wilmots' side won all three group stage games and defeated the United States to reach the quarterfinals, their best achievement since 1986. The Red Devils have not been at their best, but Belgium is winning and they are justifying the tag of dark horses that they have been carrying for the last two years.
If they want to reach Euro 2016, the Dragons will have to prove themselves against the top teams—and this Belgium is one of them. They are playing football that does not suit the Bosnian style, and they will remain almost the same team in the next qualifiers, while hoping that Euro 2016 will be their pinnacle.