Monday 16 June 2014

Could Bosnia's swashbuckling march to the World Cup win them new fans?

Bosnia-Herzegovenia qualification for their first World Cup on the same night as England secured their place in Brazil, sent the football hipster crowd abuzz with chatter of the eastern European nation's debut, rather than the Three Lions. Alex Lawson reports on why Bosnia's maiden tournament has caught the imagination. 
Bosnia lost their opening match 2-1 to Argentina
When star man Edin Dežko hit out at Bosnia-Herzegovenia manager Safet Sušic following a 2-0 friendly defeat to Egypt in March, it was typical of the fiery nature of their team spirit. Dežko, fresh from a title-wining season with Manchester City in which he played an unexpected starring role, has led from the front in a national team typified by military precision and oppressive attacking flair with 10 goals in qualifying.
Sušic has drilled his squad hard and his retort to Džeko's complaints that he was not taken off when he asked due to injury was "he will play when I tell him to play. I decide. I don't care if I have the players' support". Bobby Robson, he's not. 
Sušic, a legend as a player with Paris St Germain, has perhaps been hardened by previous attempts to reach major tournaments. Bosnia were denied a place in the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 by Portugal and will be keen to avoid Ronaldo and his Iberian troop who overcame Zlatan Ibrahimović's Sweden to reach the tournament. 
Bosnia have quickly become the discerning football fan's choice. Sušic has created a slick brand of football with an adventurous 4-1-3-2 formation which has snared them 30 goals in 10 qualifying matches, albeit with a leaky defence. In a tenacious qualifying campaign, they outmuscled the sturdy Greeks and Lithuania to reach the finals as group winners.
Neutrals will also be enticed by what making their World Cup debut means for the tiny country with a population of 3.8 million. The war torn 22-year-old nation has had little to shout about since it was borne out of the former Yugoslavia and local reports suggest the country is abuzz with anticipation ahead of the tournament. Bosnia and Stock City keeper Asmir Begovic has spoken of the immense joy of giving something positive to a country which has suffered "years of trouble, hurt and pain." Džeko himself overcame a childhood in the country's capital of Sarajevo typified by attacks on the city.
So what of the team prospects? In what appears a relatively average group containing Argentina, Nigeria and Iran, Bosnia have been widely tipped to take the second qualifying spot behind many pundit's tournament favourites, Argentina. Their brand of attacking football will doubtless put the team on the offensive and forward-thinking midfielders Edin Visca, Senijad Ibricic and Izet Harjovic could help power the team through to the knock-out stages.
However, Bosnia's sting in the tail could well be their lack of depth. Eyebrows have been raised at the fact just two strikers - in the form of the talismanic Dežko and VfB Stuttgart's Vedad Ibišević - have taken the trip to Brazil. Bosnia could receive a harsh lesson in tournament football if suspension or injury test the number of players at Sušic's disposal. They acquitted themselves well in their opening game defeat against Argentina and will still be hopeful of making it through.  
While Bosnia's team and population will be thrilled by their maiden World Cup voyage, it's clear that Sušic and his men mean business, are not there to make up the numbers and could well charm a few more ardent fans of the beautiful game. 

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