(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are the only World Cup debutants in 2014. After coming close to qualifying in 2010 and Euro 2012, BiH is playing in their first ever major international tournament, just 19 years after the end of their civil war.
BiH is making their World Cup debut after thrashing through everyone in qualification. They scored 30 goals and allowed only six, posting an impressive +24 GD in ten matches. Granted, six out of those ten matches came against the gauntlet that is Liechtenstein, Lithuania and Latvia but those numbers are still impressive and a good display of their attacking abilities.
BiH has a great chance to make some noise at their first World Cup and is favorite among bookies to finish second in their group behind Argentina. Let’s look at the 23 men who will be making history for their country.
Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen)
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke 04), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Toni Sunjic (Zarya Lugansk), Avdija Vrsajevic (Hajduk Split), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg)
Midfielders: Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhou Renhe), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Tino Sven Susic (Hajduk Split), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Anel Hadzic (Sturm Graz)
Forwards: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB)
BiH’s strength is unquestionably their strikers. Edin Dzeko was a key part of Manchester City’s title-winning squad with 16 goals and 8 assists in 31 Premier League appearances. Dzeko ended his season with a flourish: 5 goals in 4 games. In qualifying, Dzeko scored 10 goals in 10 games. Dzeko is a proven poacher: most of his goals for MCFC where products of being in the right place in the right time. At six feet and four inches, he is also a huge aerial threat and scored a quarter of his goals with his noggin. Joining Dzeko will be Vedad Ibisevic. The VfB Stuttgart striker has scored a respectable 25 goals in his last two seasons in the Bundesliga. BiH should have no issues getting goals past Nigeria and Iran and scoring at least once versus Argentina seems pretty reasonable.
BiH’s midfield will revolve around Miralem Pjanic. The Roma midfielder started 35 times for Roma in their successful Serie A campaign. According to Squawka, only four players in Serie A made more keys passes than him. Serie A will also be represented in the BiH squad with Senad Lulic. The Lazio left midfielder played in 30 league matches with seven goals and three assists. Lulic isn’t shy about tracking back to support the defense, something which will prove beneficial for their group stage match against Argentina and a potential round of 16 date with France. Also available for BiH in the midfield is Zvjezdan Misimović. While this is not 2008-09 where he had an impressive 20 assists for Wolfsburg, he’s another player BiH will be using in the midfield. Hoffenheim’s Sejad Salihovic started 28 times and contributed with 11 goals and 5 assists. BiH’s issue is midfield depth. Once you get past the four players mentioned above, no one else is anywhere near World Cup quality. BiH needs to pray that none of their key midfielders get injured. If one does, they’ll be forced to use a player who doesn’t really deserve a place in a World Cup starting line up.
Defense will be BiH’s downfall. Emir Spahic is a pretty solid defender: he started 27 Bundesliga games for Bayer Leverkusen in addition to six Champions League matches. Last season he played 22 games for Sevilla. His experience facing world class players this season from Bayern, Dortmund, PSG and Manchester United will prove helpful facing Argentina’s stacked attackers. BiH’s defense boosts Sead Kolasinac and Ermin Bicakcic, both of whom made plenty of starts in the Bundesliga this season. But neither of them really inspire defensive confidence. The rest of BiH’s defenders either are have issues with age or not in a very strong league.
Luckily for BiH they will have prolific goal scorer Asmir Begovic in goal. The Stoke goalkeeper kept 9 clean sheets for Stoke and allowed just a smidge more than a goal per game (36 in 32). Begovic has the quality to make key saves vs. Argentina and if he’s on form, Bosnia might be able to scrape out a draw from their match against Messi and friends.
There is a very good chance that BiH will be the one of the 16 best teams in the entire world by finishing second in Group F. Dzeko and Ibisevic’s goal scoring ability, combined with a solid midfield just give Bosnia all they need to edge past Nigeria and Iran for second in their group. When you consider what was happening in Bosnia two decades ago, they could be one of the best feel good stories in this World Cup.