Bosnia 0-0 Portugal: both sides play defensively on a very poor pitch
A largely uneventful game, and all square going into the second leg the Estadio da Luz on Tuesday.
Safet Susic had various selection problems at the back, meaning that captain Emir Spahic was the only first-choice member of the back four playing. Further forward, the side was as expected.
No major surprises from Paulo Bento either – 4-3-3, with Miguel Veloso in the holding role behind old Sporting teammate Joao Moutinho, and Raul Meireles.
Susic’s concern about the back four may have contributed to his decision to play cautious football in the first two-thirds of this match, although for long periods they simply poor on the ball.
Bosnia played in a similar fashion to in Paris, when they were unlucky not to win. The most interesting feature of their side is the way Haris Medunjanin drops very deep to become a left-sided centre-back in a three, which pushes the full-backs forward (particularly the left-back, Sejad Salihovic) – and both are really midfielders anyway.
Higher up the pitch, left-winger Senad Lulic plays high up and wide, and on the other flank, Miralem Pjanic looks to come inside into the middle to become an extra playmaker. Usually, the combination of a natural wide player and a ‘false’ playmaker on the flanks works well and gives a nice balance, but it did make Bosnia lopsided, because Salihovic attacked much more than Adnan Zahirovic, who was understandably told to stay in position up against Cristiano Ronaldo, who played high up on the left.
Therefore, little went down Bosnia’s right – they couldn’t get the ball to Pjanic, and he increasingly came infield towards the end of the first half, frustrated at seeing little of the ball, but rather contributing the lopsidedness by leaving his position. His creativity was also stifled as he had to help double up on Ronaldo. Zvjezdan Misimovic also struggled to get into the game, with Portugal’s three central midfielders sitting deep, and in the first half it was difficult to see how Bosnia were trying to score a goal. Edin Dzeko was followed out from the back by Pepe and Bruno Alves, with the other covering, and Veloso sometimes dropping in.
Portugal complained about the state of the pitch before the game, and it seemed to be a factor in their gameplan. They rarely looked to play through midfield – although they do lack a number ten anyway – and played an extraordinary number of long balls, for which Helder Postiga challenged.
Their best opportunities came from direct play – when Postiga fired over after Moutinho had headed down for him after a free-kick, and when Ronaldo got in down the left after a big diagonal from his Real Madrid teammate Pepe. Meireles and Moutinho were given some license to get forward into advanced positions, but the attacking basically came from the front three.
Final 25 minutes
Bento made straight swaps – Hugo Almeida for Postiga, then Ruben Micael on for Raul Meireles, but Susic made dramatic changes to give Bosnia more attacking threat.
He decided to bring on a second striker, Vedad Ibisevic, which meant taking off Medunjanin. To make up for this, there were various changes. Darko Maletic came on for left-back Salihovic but went to right-back. Previous right-back Zahirovic went into midfield in place of Medunjanin, whilst the left-back gap was filled by Lulic dropping back, and Misimovic going out to the left of midfield. It was more like a 4-4-2.
This pushed Bosnia up the pitch, and the simple addition of a second striker meant a more obvious goalscoring threat. Alves and Pepe now both had to mark, but both (especially Alves) switched off and let Ibisevic have two good goalscoring chances.
A more subtle result from the change was that Misimovic and Pjanic, now both playing deeper as narrow wide midfielders in a four, could actually get the ball and they had more opportunities to play good passes. Those zones are where the 4-3-3 is vulnerable when the wingers play high up the pitch (as Ronaldo and Nani did), because the full-backs don’t want to come that high up the pitch. Therefore, it helped Bosnia that their two most creative players ended up in those positions, even if it probably wasn’t Susic’s intention. Bosnia were the dominant side late on, but poor finishing let them down.
Portugal threatened on the break through Ronaldo, but they faded as the game went on, and Almeida contributed nothing more than Postiga.
A game of various stages – Portugal were better in the first half, the game was even for the third quarter, then Bosnia were on top late on. For that, Susic deserves credit, and you can understand why he was cautious early on given his problems at the back.
Portugal had no link between the midfield trio, which is comprised of three fairly similar players, and the forward three. That made direct football their best best bet, but Ronaldo’s shooting was poor and neither striker was good enough to handle two centre-backs without support from a midfield runner.
Tuesday night’s game should be more open.
Edit: This game saw more misplaced passes than any other Euro 2012 qualifier, summing up how bad the pitch was