France 1-1 Bosnia: Bosnia dominate first half, France lucky to get back in the game late on

October 12, 2011

The starting line-ups

Bosnia were 15 minutes from topping the group, but Samir Nasri’s late penalty put France into Euro 2012.

Laurent Blanc brought in Anthony Reveillere and Eric Abidal at the back, and Jeremy Menez came on down the right in a 4-2-3-1.

Safet Susic also went with a 4-2-3-1 – albeit with some important modifications, explained later.

Despite the result favouring France, Susic got things right tactically from the outset. Bosnia were much more of a force in the first half and can consider themselves unfortunate to have lost the lead late on – they allowed France few clear chances, though rash tackles meant set-pieces were always likely to be a way back into the game for the home side.

Bosnian pressure

Bosnia’s early dominance came because their players were much more comfortable on the ball, and small movements within the base formation allowed them to create passing angles around France. This started from the left-sided holding player Haris Medunjanin, who played very, very deep ahead of his own centre-backs, and often dropped in to the left of Emir Spahic. As a result, the full-backs could move on and force Florent Malouda and Jeremy Menez to defend – Mensur Mujdza had some early joy with overlapping runs down the right. It also meant that Medunjanin was always in space – with Nasri watching Elvir Rahimic and Yann M’Vila on Zvjezdan Misimovic, there was no way Yohan Cabaye was going to move all the way up the pitch to close down Medunjanin. The defensive players were all comfortable on the ball, and distributed it well to the midfielders.

The focus upon ball retention also came from higher up the pitch. Edin Dzeko was the lone striker but often dropped off into deeper positions between the centre-backs and M’Vila, ready for a short pass. In addition, Miralem Pjanic and Misimovic buzzed around trying to find pockets of space to receive the ball in, causing M’Vila and Patrice Evra to come away from their natural positions. Evra has looked weak positionally over the last few months, which is something opponents at club and international level can look to take advantage of.

All this movement towards the ball might have made Bosnia too predictable and too keen to play in front of France without any penetration, were it not for the energetic role of Senad Lulic, who motored up and down the left flank. He got caught offside too often, but at least he was providing that burst of energy past the defence.

Bosnia pressed from the front and nearly caught out France when playing short goal kicks, but the result was that they played a high defensive line, which was exploited by Loic Remy’s pace for a good chance, when he failed to get a shot away in a one-on-one situation. That was the only time France had showed good midfield interplay in the first half, as they’d struggled to get Nasri involved – too often they tried to exploit the high line with a long, straight ball.

France riposte

How did France get back into the game in the last half hour? Some credit must go to Laurent Blanc for some good substitutions. Malouda and Cabaye were removed. Marvin Martin was a straight swap for Cabaye and provided more creativity, and Kevin Gameiro came on upfront, with Remy going right, Menez going central, and Nasri going left.

It was those knock-on effects of the changes, rather than the changes themselves, that gave France hope. Nasri was no longer struggling to receive the ball in tight central positions, he was out on the left getting the ball played into feet and taking on defenders. Menez was central, so in theory should have suffered from the problems Nasri experienced, but then he is much happier to come deep, turn, then pick up the ball and run at speed. These two players drove France forward, and both looked more comfortable in their new positions.

Bosnia, however, were too submissive. At times they put Dzeko and Misimovic behind the ball and created a block of ten players to play through. Fine – but when Bosnia had been causing the French defence such problems, it seemed a waste to ask Dzeko to sit behind the ball. “Attack is the best form of defence” doesn’t quite explain it – “some threat of an attack might help the defence” would be more appropriate. France pushed high up and pressed Bosnia into their own third.

And then, after the equaliser, the situation changed and we saw a situation that happens so often – when a side reverts from a positive mindset to a defensive one, and then needs to recapture its attacking potential, it is completely unable to do so. Having played lovely football for the first half (and with all the front four still on the pitch) Bosnia were suddenly hopeless late on, resorting to the desperate tactic of sending a big tall defender, Sasa Papac, up the pitch to challenge for long balls. It didn’t work, and Bosnia face a play-off.


Bosnia were excellent for the majority of the game, but their shift to an all-out-defensive nature at a relatively early stage left them no possibility of getting up the pitch to score a second goal if it were needed. Which, in the end, it was. They essentially gambled on their defence being able to hold out for 20-25 minutes with a clean sheet – and, in fairness, the back four will feel that positionally they were rarely at fault. But that is the risk you take when counting on your defence – one moment of luck, a mistake or a piece of brilliance from the opposition can undo you. A side must retain attacking ambition as insurance for this.

France were decent, nothing more. Blanc is gradually moulding the side to be more confident on the ball and more cohesive, but they were the weaker side in both these respects. They improved after the substitutions, but as always in these situations when key players like Menez and Nasri end up performing better in different positions, did Blanc get his changes right, or his starting choices wrong?

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