Bosnia: more cautious than expected
Out of the 32 nations competing in Brazil, Bosnia are the only debutant, and therefore one of the more exciting teams.
A couple of months ago they were even more exciting. Coach Safet Susic played an astonishingly attack-minded side throughout qualification, often featuring two out-and-out strikers, three attacking midfielders just behind, and playmaker sweeping up behind as the closest thing to a holding midfielder.
Susic has been very bold in interviews over the last year. “We have to play like we do,” he told World Soccer last year. “It may sound tactically immature, I am fully aware of that, but I just think that it would be wrong to play differently. We know that we expose ourselves too much and that there is a huge risk in a way we play – using one defensive midfielder and opening up huge space for an opponent – but it would be unfair to the fans, to the game and to us if we were to suppress such a talent and such a skill.”
Susic has had a complete re-think, however, because in warm-up matches he’s abandoned his aggressive 4-1-3-2 formation and has instead changed toa standard 4-2-3-1. It’s a gigantic shift at such a late stage, and involves little more than removing his second striker, Vedad Ibisevic, and introducing a holding midfielder.
In fact, the incoming holding midfielder Muhamed Besic is equally comfortable as a centre-back, so Susic has literally introduced a defender for a striker. Furthermore, talented playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic could find himself out the side having started nine of the ten qualifiers, with a more functional midfielder preferred. Having proudly emphasised Bosnia’s commitment to playing more attacking than anyone else, and his intention to put on a show for the world, Bosnia have retreated into their shell.
Their strength is still the final third – their best two players are their number ten and their number nine. But there’s little to suggest Bosnia will be any more adventurous than average, which seems a great shame.
Those two players have enjoyed great form this season, with Edin Dzeko crucial towards the end of Manchester City’s title-winning campaign, and Miralem Pjanic shining in a superb Roma side. We’re yet to witness them playing these roles regularly for the national side, however, which means it’s anyone’s guess how effectively they’ll link.
Both for club and country, Dzeko is accustomed to having a striker partner, and it’s arguable he does a lot of his good work in deeper positions, and has been pigeonholed as a penalty box man because of his height.
Pjanic, similarly, usually plays in a deeper role than this number ten position, and likes receiving the ball with a clear view of the attack before despatching a good forward pass, rather than someone who will find pockets of space and slip through-balls between defenders. He’ll certainly link play well, and will drop deep to get involved, but he’s no guarantee of success.
Misimovic could start from the right, drifting inside to combine with Pjanic, but there are concerns about whether they’ll be too similar – it worked in qualifying against inferior opposition, but Susic’s new-found love of structure means Izet Hajrovic looks likely to start instead. He’s a small, direct winger and will get up and down the line.
On the opposite side, Senad Lulic is one of those energetic, left-footed players that can play pretty much anywhere along that flank – he’s a very powerful runner, covers lot of ground, and while he’s not the most talented in possession, he’s often very dangerous.
21-year-old newcomer Besic will presumably sit solidly in front of the defence, but his likely midfield colleague Haris Medunjanin is a proper deep-lying playmaker, drifting around in deep positions to find space and start passing moves, because the centre-backs aren’t particularly good on the ball. With Pjanic now set to start as the number ten, and Misimovic out of the side, Medunjanin has a great responsibility to command the midfield zone and set the tempo of the passing. He might appreciate the fact Bosnia will now play with two direct wingers, as he can spread the play out to those players.
The defenders are now given much more protection, but they’re a real concern. The two full-backs are hard-working and attack with power rather than guile, with Mensur Muzjda on the right moving forward in possession and left-sided Sead Kolasinac probably doing more work off the ball. Defensively, they’re battlers.
The situation at centre-back is even more worrying. Emir Spahic is more of a great captain than a great centre-back, to put it politely, and struggles in terms of mobility and passing. Ermin Bicakcic can turn much better, but is still a basic centre-back and therefore it’s wise Susic is now attempting to shield them properly. Goalkeeper Asmir Begovic is excellent, and will need to be, because Bosnia will concede plenty of chances.
There might be a bit of a Belgium situation here: Bosnia are being discussed with great excitement because they’re a fresh side suddenly boasting a great generation of talent, but they have major weaknesses in certain areas, and have completely changed their approach late in the day. Their starting XI is now more balanced, unquestionably, but the starting XI is no longer particularly impressive, with only the front two and the goalkeeper genuinely top-class footballers.
Teams can prosper with simply a great goalkeeper, a great creator and a great striker, but it depends on the other eight being extremely organised. And that’s the thing – Bosnia simply haven’t been playing this way, so who knows how solid they’ll be?
Coach: Safet Susic – preaches attacking football. Will he practice what he preaches?
Formation: 4-1-3-2 will presumably now be the plan B, with 4-2-3-1 favoured
Key player: Besic has been brought in to do a specific job – if he doesn’t do it, Bosnia have shelved their identity for nothing
Strength: Great team spirit, and strength in depth going forward
Weakness: Uncertain structure, poor defence
Key tactical question: Does the new shape work?
Bosnia: more cautious than expected