Can Bosnia break their hoodoo?

Rusty Woodger Roar Pro

By Rusty Woodger, Rusty Woodger is a Roar Pro


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    While traditional heavyweights such as France, England and Spain garner most attention surrounding the European section of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, it is a lesser-known side in Group G who look set to become one of the stories of the campaign.

    Bosnia and Herzegovina have never qualified for a FIFA World Cup, let alone any major football tournament, yet currently sit atop of their UEFA qualifying group midway through the campaign, three points clear of the second-placed Greece.

    Should the ‘Dragons’ — as their followers affectionately know them — maintain their spot in first position, they will go directly into the draw for the FIFA World Cup Finals scheduled for Brazil next year.

    It is an exciting prospect for a nation still struggling to find its feet following the bloody 1990s war involving the break-up of Yugoslavia.

    Bosnia’s declaration of independence in March 1992 led to a four-year armed conflict that saw around 100,000 people killed and over 2.2 million people displaced, confirming it as Europe’s most devastating war since World War II.

    Nearly two decades on since the conclusion to fighting, the replacement of damaged infrastructure across the country remains slow and ongoing.

    Combined with the fact the nation’s unemployment rate sits at an estimated 44.54 percent, it is little wonder Bosnia is considered one of Europe’s poorest countries.

    For many of its three-and-a-half million inhabitants (as well as, arguably, its several million diaspora), the performances of the national side provide a much-needed distraction from the struggles of everyday life.

    Unfortunately, for its loyal supporters, qualification to major tournaments has eluded the Dragons to date – often in cruel circumstances.

    First, there were the qualifiers for the 2004 Euros.

    Bosnia had one foot in the door when it faced Denmark in the final qualifying match in Sarajevo.

    A win against the Scandinavians would have guaranteed progression to the tournament, however the Dragons were forced to settle for a heartbreaking 1-1 draw, sending the side tumbling to fourth position in the group and out of contention.

    Then, more recently, there was Portugal: the Cristiano Ronaldo-led line-up who would douse Bosnia’s hopes not once, but twice.

    Despite earning a second-placed group finish for qualification to the 2010 FIFA World Cup – their best effort to date – the Dragons were bundled out at the final hurdle when they commendably succumbed 0-2 to the Portuguese across two play-off legs.

    Two years later, and Portugal again played the role of villain, this time in the qualification play-offs for the 2012 Euros in Poland and Ukraine.

    Although the Bosnians held their opponents to a 0-0 stalemate on home soil in Zenica, they were ultimately dismantled 6-2 by a superior Portuguese outfit during the return fixture in Lisbon.

    If such disappointment was not enough to raise the ire of Bosnians, many felt the Dragons were initially cheated out of a first-place group finish – and, thus, direct qualification – and should not have been forced to battle it out in a knockout tie against Portugal in the first place.

    In a tense match to round out Euros qualifying in Group D, Bosnia was on their way to taking out top spot as they led a star-studded French side 1-0 at the Stade de France.

    As fate would have it, in the 77th minute of the match, and with Bosnians daring to dream, Scottish referee Craig Thomson awarded a controversial penalty to France, allowing the home side to level the scores.

    The match ended 1-1, with the result sending the French top of the group and knocking the Dragons into second place, forcing the latter into an ultimately fateful sudden-death play-off.

    With new tournaments and opportunities, however, comes new hope.

    The signs for Bosnia are looking ominous, too, with the side not only unbeaten to date in qualifying, but dominating almost every opponent they have come across.

    Aside from an impressive goalless draw against Greece in Athens, Bosnia has recorded convincing home victories against Latvia (4-1), Lithuania (3-0) and Greece (3-1), as well as an 8-1 demolition of group minnows Liechtenstein on foreign soil.

    Yet, the run home for the Dragons is not going to be an easy one.

    While the side should have little trouble claiming maximum points against Liechtenstein at home, they face testing trips to Latvia and Lithuania, on top of a home-away double against Slovakia in the space of four days in September.

    If Bosnia is serious about making the most of its campaign, it cannot settle for claiming anything less than a win and a draw from its three away fixtures.

    In addition, it cannot afford to be complacent and underestimate Slovakia – nor Liechtenstein, for that matter — during their clash on Bosnian soil.

    While the Slovaks currently lag behind in third position on eight points – five behind the Bosnians – they are a dangerous side with a proven record, which recently includes progression to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup.

    A loss in Zenica on September six has serious potential to plant a roadblock in the way of Bosnia’s plans and throw Group G wide open. A draw would, at least, keep the boat steady.

    There is little doubting the Dragons will be relying on captain Edin Dzeko to lead the way.

    The prolific Manchester City striker has been instrumental to the outfit’s success thus far, having scored an accumulative seven goals in each of the side’s victories.

    Fortunately, for the Bosnians, he is not alone.

    Other players in top form include 22-year-old AS Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic, Stuttgart striker Vedad Ibisevic and Chinese-based Zvjezdan Misimovic.

    The trio have scored 11 goals between them across the five qualifiers to date.

    Such an imposing attack force has coincided with a defence of steel: for the 18 goals Bosnia and Herzegovina has scored so far, they have conceded just three.

    With an average age of 26, and several of its squad playing regular top-flight football across Europe, it seems as though Bosnia has never been better positioned to finally qualify for a major tournament.

    After all the nation has been through, both in social and sporting terms, it is anyone’s guess what qualification to the World Cup would do for the morale of the Bosnian population.

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    The Crowd Says (14)

    • March 29th 2013 @ 9:25am
      bon hiver said | March 29th 2013 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      Nice article. A couple of data points: (1) Edin Dzeko is not the captain of the Dragons, that would be Emir Spahic (until recently of Sevilla, now Anzi); (2) according to a 1995 unclassified CIA memorandum, the number of civilian casualties alone was 156,000 – a figure that did not include the estimated 10,000 victims of Serbian genocide in Srebernica all of whom were listed as “missing” at the time; (3) Bosnia’s goal differential is +15, among all nations in the WCQ, only the Netherlands and Argentina have a higher goal differential at +18 and +16, respectively; (4) Edin Dzeko leads all European scorers with 7 (none from penalties), Vedad Ibisevic has scored 5, and Zvjezdan Misimovic has scored 4 (by way of comparison, Ozil, Rooney, and Van Persie have each scored 5); (5) Bosnia has received the least number of cautions (yellow cards) in the WCQ thus far.

    • March 29th 2013 @ 10:12am
      gorz said | March 29th 2013 @ 10:12am | ! Report

      more to the above: Ronaldo was not part of the 2010 portugal playoffs side as he was out injured for both legs. He played against bosnia only in 2 legs for euro 2012 plays. also france star studded line up was not quite star studded. both ribery and benzema did NOT play in paris against the bosnians. otherwise well written, good exposure for the bosnian team right here.

      • March 30th 2013 @ 7:30am
        bon hiver said | March 30th 2013 @ 7:30am | ! Report

        Oddly enough, with or without Ronaldo, Portugal was unable to secure a direct berth in 2010 and 2012. In both qualifiers they were relegated to the playoffs. Portugal’s second leg 6-2 win over Bosnia in 2012 was a 3-2 game until a Bosnian midfielder was sent off for a foul that (arguably) didn’t warrant a caution, much less a red card.

        • March 30th 2013 @ 9:39am
          gorz said | March 30th 2013 @ 9:39am | ! Report

          Yes. Bosnia have been a great team since all these players came to the scene from about 2007. After disaster of Euro 2008 qualifiers they found their groove and since then looked really strong. Now that the corruption is gone from the inside their F.A., they are on their way to their first appearance at the finals tournaments. Still have to get there but these players are great technicians and players. They will get there.

          I think its worth a mention that Bosnia too have had their Iran game. Their match at home against Denamrk that finished 1:1 was their chance to book a place at Euro 2004 directly.(Bosnians also beat Denmark 2:0 in Copenhagen) Denmark were past European champions. 30k people came to watch them. Bosnia never lost to Denamrk in their history and euphoria before the game told on their players. They could not deal with the pressure, by their own admittance.

    • March 29th 2013 @ 1:09pm
      Kenan said | March 29th 2013 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

      an interesting article. May I add that Greece was thumped 3-1 and that was without Miralem Pjanic and Sejad Salihovic leading the way midfield for the Bosnians. If there’s any justice then Bosnia will top the group and qualify to a World Cup after countless opportunities gone begging.

    • March 29th 2013 @ 1:45pm
      Robbie said | March 29th 2013 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

      always interesting to hear about teams I wouldn’t usually know much about. thank you

    • March 29th 2013 @ 3:16pm
      OziGooner said | March 29th 2013 @ 3:16pm | ! Report

      Although they have a quality choice of attacking strikers, Bosnia-Herz is very fortunate to have such an easy group to contend with. I also believe that this is the case as a way of FIFA `squaring up` for the controversial penalty in Paris in October 2011. With Blatter and co., anything is possible. It would be most embarrassing if they weren`t able to qualify given the current standings in their group.

      • March 30th 2013 @ 1:37am
        Lone said | March 30th 2013 @ 1:37am | ! Report

        Germany, England, Italy, Portugal and other top teams have easy groups as well but still some of them struggle to win or even to score the goal.

    • March 29th 2013 @ 8:12pm
      Derrick Osteen said | March 29th 2013 @ 8:12pm | ! Report

      The G group is not so easy as everybody say. Greece and Slovakia were on FIFA World Cup 2010. Bosnia will not have easy job against Slovakia. I wish to see Bosnia in Brasil 🙂 I agree with Ozi, Blatter and co are very suspicious, the Ireland case is proof. Both times France qualified ta tournament but not deserve to (against Ireland Henry’s hand goal, against Bosnia suspicious penalty).

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