Voted as Paris Saint-Germain’s best player of all time, head coach Safet Suši? is a Bosnian legend who starred for Yugoslavia up until its dissolution. After his playing career though, Suši? embarked in a relatively unremarkable managerial career which mostly took place in Turkey.
Despite his lack of success at the club level, he took over Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2009 and guided the team to some of their best results yet. Under Suši?, the team has yet to finish below second in a qualifying group for a major international tournament, an impressive achievement given that the country has fewer than four million people inside its borders.
Because most of their talent lies in the attacking part of the field, Bosnia plays a fairly open, fluid style, even though their formations are officially listed as a 4-4-2. As a relatively inexperienced side internationally, Bosnia will look to play through its club stars, Roma’s Miralem Pjani?, Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibiševi? and Manchester City’s Edin Džeko.
While Pjani? is your prototypical attacking midfielder, Ibiševi? and Džeko are both poachers who hold up the ball well and win everything in the air. Bosnia’s role players will look to find any of these dangerous attacking three in order to be successful, but against the better teams, such as Argentina, they may play more defensively in order to avoid getting caught on a counter.
For the first time in their recent stint in the English Premier League, Stoke finished in the top half of the league. A big reason for this finish was goalkeeper Asmir Begovi?, who has been a rock in the back ever since he transferred from Portsmouth. Begovi? is exactly the type of goalkeeper EPL teams love, he’s big (6’6”), strong and commands his area with authority.
Even though he plays in relative anonymity, Bosnia can count goalkeeper as one of their strengths … unless Begovi? gets hurt. Behind him the three keepers on the preliminary roster have a combined three international appearances.
With a 17-year professional career spanning six different countries and 10 different clubs, Bayer Leverkusen center back Emir Spahi? has seen it all. The captain’s 72 caps rank second all-time in Bosnian history on a team short of quality defenders. Bosnia has plenty of quality in the attack; the real question will be, how well can they defend? Spahi?, who is a first cousin of Edin Džeko is the only defender on the team with more than 25 caps. It will be up to him to lead an inexperienced backline.
Other than rock Emir Spahi?, their defense is completely inexperienced. Inexperience doesn’t automatically mean that the players will perform poorly, but most of the young defenders are role players at mediocre European clubs. There simply isn’t a ton of talent on the backline. Bosnia will try to outscore every team they play in barn-burners, but sometimes your luck runs out and your backline is exposed. Whether it happens in the first round, round of 16 or quarterfinals, it will happen.
As one of the top young playmakers in Europe, Roma’s Miralem Pjani? is the conduit in which the Bosnians run through. The team doesn’t go unless Pjani? does as well. The attacking midfielder is equally adept at slaloming through defenders with perfect touch as he is playing the final ball to release Bosnia’s powerful attackers.
Just 24, Pjani? is expected to make a big splash in the Champions League next year. He was one of the biggest reasons why Roma finished second in Serie A this season. Originally a youth international for Luxembourg, Pjani? actually didn’t obtain a Bosnian passport (even though he was born in the country) until 2008, which delayed the playmaker’s debut for quite some time.
Though he doesn’t score a ton of goals, he is an elite passer who sets up a plethora of goals. For the Bosnian fans, he is the sole player on the team who can make rain fall.
If the team does most things average, their forwards are decidedly above average. It’s hard to choose a goalscorer between Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibiševi?, but Džeko is a slightly better player and probably the most popular Bosnian player as well. With 10 goals in qualifying and 33 overall, Džeko is Bosnia’s all-time leading scorer.
The Manchester City man averages about a goal every other game for both club and country. At 6’4” Džeko is just as adept in the air as he is at finishing with both feet. Even though he meets the stereotypical standards of a target forward, he’s also very good at setting up goals. Quite simply, he’s Bosnia’s best player and their talismanic force.
Just 20 years ago, Bosnia was a war-torn nation that featured genocide as a daily occurrence. The wounds of the war are still fresh, but this team has managed to unite a divided country. The Brazil-bound squad includes players from all three of the major ethnic backgrounds in the country: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, each with their own cultural and religious beliefs, but all fighting for the same cause.
Though always talented, the Bosnian side had always fallen just short in qualification for major tournaments. The former Yugoslav republic famously missed out on qualifying for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 by losing playoffs to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal both times. Now that they’re finally in a major tournament, the country can rejoice and hope to reconcile the ongoing ethnic tension issues that its community faces on a day-to-day basis.
As with any first-time World Cup team, Bosnia are just happy to be there. Expectations were low heading into the tournament … until they drew the group that they did. Bosnia are not expected to beat Argentina, but Iran and Nigeria are two of the weaker teams in the tournament.
Their progress will likely come down to their game against Nigeria, who were mediocre in the Confederations Cup. Most fans will expect a win from that game and therefore advancement to the round of 16. Anything else past that would be gravy for a team who would likely be matched up with a talented French squad in the knockout rounds.