Historically, playoffs haven’t been kind to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Ireland. The Irish have only managed to qualify with two of their seven previous attempts, and the Bosnians never have, losing to Portugal in both 2010 and 2012. Now one of these nations will have the chance to put an end to their history of disappointment and to prolong the misery of the other. Something’s gotta give, writes AngryBosnianFan
The Dragons from the Balkans got their Euro 2016 qualification campaign off to a very disappointing start, winning only 2 points out of a possible 12 and suffering shocking loses to Cyprus and Israel. Coach Safet Susic was then replaced by Mehmed Bazdarevic. The new boss corrected some of Susic’s more glaring errors and has improved Bosnia’s form enough to earn a place in the playoff after defeating Israel, Cyprus, Wales, and minnows Andorra. Bazdarevic’s only loss came against Belgium, away in Brussels.
Bosnia’s biggest goal threat and talisman Edin Dzeko did not play in the victories over Cyprus and Wales due to injury, but he has recovered and should be ready for the playoff. Dzeko performed well prior to his injury, netting 7 goals in 7 appearances; only Ibrahimovic, Dzyuba, Muller, and Lewandowski have scored more goals and they’ve all played more matches. Bazdarevic’s other strike options are Hertha Berlin’s Vedad Ibisevic and Cesena’s gigantic target man Milan Djuric. Both have scored crucial goals during Dzeko’s absence.
Bosnia’s other big star, playmaker Miralem Pjanic, has been on fire this season with 5 goals and 6 assists in only 10 apps for AS Roma, but the Irish may be relieved to know that Pjanic’s fine club form rarely carries over to the national team. James McCarthy’s Everton teammate Muhamed Besic will miss the first leg due to suspension, but Bosnian fans are desperate to see him recover from injury in time for the second leg.
The results against Cyprus (2-3) and Wales (2-0) are impressive when you consider Wales had one of the best defensive records in the qualifiers and Bosnia did it without key players Dzeko, Besic, and first choice fullback Sead Kolasinac. But they also hide the fact that the overall performances in those last two games were inconsistent and largely unimpressive. Some might say “winning ugly” is the mark of a good team but fans know performances must improve if Bosnia hopes to make it past Ireland and have any kind of impact in France.
“Bosnia’s last two playoffs were against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal so Ireland will seem less daunting, and there is a feeling among supporters that this time the Dragons should have the grit and experience to finally claw their way through to the final tournament.”
BOSNIA’S RECENT FORM: WWLWWW
Ireland will have to play the first leg without defender John O’Shea and forward Jonathan Walters, but all time record scorer Robbie Keane should be available and Southampton’s Shane Long will most likely return from injury by early November. Long was the man who earned Ireland a 1-0 friendly victory over Bosnia in their first and only meeting three years ago.
In truth, most Bosnian fans hoped to avoid Ireland and judging by coach Bazdarevic’s reaction at the draw, so did he. Player for player, Bosnia has the bigger names and is technically superior but Martin O’Neill’s side is made up of Premier League and Championship players who have the edge in pace, athleticism, and work rate, and they have shown great resilience over the qualifying campaign. For the most part, Bosnia lacks pace in both attack and defence and has often fallen prey to quick counter attacks, most recently against Cyprus.
Bosnia will look for a strong result at home so they have something to defend and hold onto in the intense atmosphere that awaits them in Dublin. O’Neill has said that he considers playing the second leg at home an advantage for Ireland as long as they make sure there is still something to play for, which means his team may come to Zenica set-up not to lose, rather than to win.
With Bosnia’s only quality defensive midfield option Muhamed Besic suspended for the first leg, Ireland should find it easier to operate in midfield and to run at the relatively slow and often unconvincing Bosnian back line. Shane Long’s pace could prove key.
No one in the Bosnian camp expects an easy tie; the qualifiers have proven that the Irish are a difficult team to beat and are expected to fight tooth and nail, especially at home. There is a healthy dose of respect for “The Boys in Green” among most Bosnian fans who know the historic win over World Champions Germany will only boost Irish belief and confidence.
IRELAND’S RECENT FORM: DDWWWL
It is difficult to make any convincing predictions but like Poland before them, Bosnia has one significant advantage over Ireland: superior firepower. Martin O’Neill has no top forwards at his disposal and with key defender John O’Shea suspended for the first leg, Dzeko and company may prove too much for the Irish defense in Zenica.
Bosnia-Herzegovina v. Ireland (2-0)
Ireland v. Bosnia-Herzegovina (2-1)