Northern Ireland's Euro 2020 play-off hopes have been boosted with semi-final opponents Bosnia and Herzegovina in disarray over the future of their manager Robert Prosinecki.
The former Real Madrid and Barcelona star has been confidently predicting that Bosnia will defeat Northern Ireland in March but, despite overseeing victories home and away against Michael O'Neill's side in the 2018 Nations League, he may not be around for next year's moutwatering clash following a disappointing qualification campaign.
Bosnia had high hopes of qualifying automatically for Euro 2020 but finished fourth in their group behind Italy, Finland and Greece, losing half of their 10 games in the process.
Prosinecki actually quit following an embarrassing 4-2 loss in September to Armenia before a dramatic turnaround a day later saw him stay until the end of the qualifiers, finishing earlier this month with a 3-0 reverse against Italy and beating Liechtenstein by the same score.
The ex-Croatia midfielder has not been shy in offering his thoughts on hosting O'Neill's side in March, saying: "We have already played two matches in the Nations League with Northern Ireland and they were very good for us as we won both matches.
"Although the match will not be easy, I believe we can pass Northern Ireland and reach the play-off final."
Even with those comments, speculation has been intense in Bosnia about Prosinecki staying in charge, with reports suggesting he would hold crunch talks with the Federation's President Elvedin Begic today, but that was last night postponed until after an internal review.
Begic admitted that a panel, including former internationals set up by the Executive Board of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation, would discuss the Euro 2020 qualifiers and offer recommendations going forward. Prosinecki’s performance as boss is expected to be on the agenda.
“They have to sit first this week, talk and do their analysis and view the situation,” said Begic. “To my knowledge it could be as early as Wednesday. After that we go to the Executive Board.”
Speaking to the Mondo website, Begic added: “The Executive Board never make any decisions until the profession (panel) make its proposals and reports.”
Should Prosinecki be sacked, Bosnia would have to appoint a new manager ahead of the monumental encounter with Northern Ireland on March 26.
On playing that game on their own patch, Prosinecki said: “It is very important to us that we will play the play-off in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“That is our slight advantage in the play-offs because of the atmosphere and crowd, and because we play really well on our pitch.”
While all this uncertainty goes on with Bosnia and Prosinecki, the Irish FA insist O’Neill will be in charge of Northern Ireland for the semi-final despite also being the boss of Championship outfit Stoke City.
Frustrated by the Nations League results with Bosnia — losing 2-1 at Windsor Park and 2-0 on the road — O’Neill was delighted with the number of opportunities created by Northern Ireland in last year’s two games and feels there is a genuine chance to progress to a March 31 final, where they would host Slovakia or the Republic of Ireland
O’Neill’s focus for the next four months, though, will be on Stoke, who he has already inspired to successive victories following his appointment.
Tonight, the 50-year-old will go for a hat-trick of wins with Stoke away to Cardiff City.
The Welsh side may be without Gavin Whyte, who O’Neill of course knows well from their time together with the international squad.
Following Saturday’s first home win at the bet365 stadium, O’Neill was asked the main difference working in club football compared to the international game.
“I have only worked with players for three days so can’t answer the question yet.
“Every week in international week you have a game at the end of it. The only difference is the down-time between games, but I work in a very similar way and have midweek games to deal with. This turnaround of playing Saturday then Tuesday is something I have done for a long time in international football, so it doesn’t faze me to do that.
“We haven’t had a lot of time to work with the players and I think once things settle down we will put a real stamp on the team and continue to progress.
“The spirit has been great. You speak to people. I never got the feeling I was walking into a bad dressing room. What you do get is that playing and winning breeds confidence, belief and a togetherness. The dressing room was a very positive place pre-game and it was a very positive place post-game.”