Bosnia-Herzegovina's Euro 2016 qualifier against Belgium is a key early game in what looks like a very tough Group B. The two nations will also have to face a rapidly improving Wales team, armed with stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, during this qualification campaign.
That's why it will be important to lay down an early marker. Belgium, brimming with Premier League talents such as Manchester City centre-back Vincent Kompany and Chelsea wing wizard Eden Hazard, will be favoured.
However, the Bosnia and Herzegovina squad also features some quality players from England's top flight. In particular, Kompany's City teammate striker Edin Dzeko and rugged Everton schemer Muhamed Besic could cause problems.
Before a more in-depth preview, here's all of the relevant schedule and viewing information:
Date: Monday, October 13, 2014
Time: 7:45 p.m. (BST) / 2:45 p.m. (ET)
TV: Sky Sports 5 (Red Button) / ESPN2
This Bosnia squad is loaded with technical quality. But a key to the team is the performance of Besic. A terrific player, he is defensively stout, creatively intelligent and athletically gifted.
He certainly offered ample evidence of the latter quality in his nation's recent goalless draw with Wales. Besic chased down and dispossessed the lightning-fast Bale, in a stunning display, per Metro:
There aren’t many players who could keep pace with Gareth Bale’s shadow, let alone the man himself.
But Everton’s Muhamed Besic not only managed that last night during Wales’ draw with Bosnia, but got a cracking tackle in to stop the Welsh wizard mid-bombing run as well.
And with Bale so unused to be caught in full-flow, he really didn’t look too impressed.
Besic will need those qualities if Hazard sees the field. That is in some doubt after manager Marc Wilmots held him out against of Belgium's last game, a 6-0 win over Andorra, per a Press Association report via Mail Online.
Wilmots will also closely monitor Kompany, after the defender was withdrawn during the demolition of Andorra, per BHDragons.com writer Edin Halilovic:
Axel Witsel is ruled out with a injury he picked up a few weeks ago playing for his club Zenit in Russia whilst they are still sweating on the fitness of Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany, who came off although announced as a precautionary measure midway through last night’s game. Those three aside though, everyone else is available and it will be a near full strength Belgian team that will encounter Bosnia in Zenica on Monday night.
Even if Hazard is missing, Besic will likely have to contend with speedy runners such as Kevin de Bruyne, Nacer Chadli and Dries Mertens. Besic will have a key role to play in stemming Belgium's forward breaks.
When Bosnia venture forward, the key man will be supremely gifted pass-master Miralem Pjanic. The 24-year-old AS Roma ace is a technical marvel and the creative hub of quick-passing midfield.
Pjanic takes a skilled and cerebral approach to splitting defensive gaps with dangerous through passes. His supply to Dzeko will be crucial if Bosnia are going to breach a rugged and disciplined Belgian defence.
With Witsel missing, Pjanic should have more freedom to roam the pitch and expertly pick his passes.
Predicted Final Score: Bosnia and Herzegovina 1-1 Belgium
The Belgian will struggle for fluency in Bosnia. However, Wilmots' team will still snatch a goal on the counter.
Meanwhile, the hosts will suffer from an overly cautious approach, as well as familiar problems converting stylish possession into goals.