Belfast Telegraph

Who are Bosnia? Everything you need to know about Northern Ireland's play-off opponents

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Edin Dzeko (centre) battles for the ball with Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis (left) and Corry Evans (Tim Goode/PA)
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Edin Dzeko (centre) battles for the ball with Northern Ireland’s Steven Davis (left) and Corry Evans (Tim Goode/PA)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

It may still be four months away, but Northern Ireland already know that it will be Bosnia and Herzegovina they play in their Euro 2020 play-off semi-final.

A familiar opponent, which we'll get onto in a second, Bosnia will be a very tough fixture for Northern Ireland, particularly since Michael O'Neill's men will have to travel for the game.

So, what can we expect from the opponents? Here, we take a look...

 

When is the game?

It will be on Thursday March 26, with kick-off at 8.45pm local time (7.45pm UK).

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No fear: Northern Ireland's Niall McGinn tackles Bosnia & Herzegovina's Haris Duljevic in their first Nations League clash

Don't I know you?

Yep! It's not too long ago that Northern Ireland took on Bosnia in a competitive fixture as part of the brand-new (and much debated) UEFA Nations League.

The last time they met, in Sarajevo back in October 2018, it was Edin Dzeko who was the catalyst for a 2-0 win for the hosts, scoring both goals and running rings around the defence.

In the reverse fixture, held a month prior in September, Will Grigg's stoppage time goal proved futile as Bosnia triumphed 2-1 at Windsor Park, with Haris Duljevic and Elvis Saric striking.

Bosnia would go on to top Group B3 of the UEFA Nations League and earn promotion to League A, while Northern Ireland slumped to four losses and relegation to League C.

So yeah, there's history, and, amazingly, that's the only two times the nations have come up against each other since Bosnia's freedom from Yugoslavia in 1992.

Their form

W-L-L-W-L-W (since start of 2019-20 season)

It's interesting to note that Bosnia haven't drawn a match since March - a 2-2 draw with Greece - meaning there's a good chance this tie won't need extra-time.

Their form has ebbed and flowed considerably, and their 3-3-0 record is somewhat misleading given two of those wins have come against minnows Liechtenstein (5-0 and 3-0).

Their other win was a 4-1 thrashing of Finland in Sarajevo, but their record besides that has been dismal, to say the least.

A 4-2 loss to Armenia, which nearly cost manager Robert Prosinecki his job, was followed by an embarrassing 2-1 loss at already-eliminated Greece and then a 3-0 home defeat by Italy.

They're not scoring goals either, which will be music to Michael O'Neill's ears, with just 25 goals in 16 games since the start of the 2018-19 season - and eight of those came against Liechtenstein.

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Edin Dzeko

How they got here

Bosnia are actually at this stage by finishing top of the Nations League group rather than their qualifying campaign, as they finished fourth in Group J of the qualifiers with four wins, a draw and five defeats.

It's part of the quirky new system that gives teams that succeed in UEFA's newest tournament a way to reach major events, and it's paid dividends for them with a home draw.

Key players

The obvious one is captain Edin Dzeko who, with a strike rate of 58 goals in 107 international appearances, is both the country's top scorer and most-capped player.

Another danger man is Juventus ace Miralem Pjanic, who is a lethal passer and has a wicked long-range shot to match, making him one of Europe's deadliest midfielders.

But beyond that, Bosnia's threats are a little bit sparse. Midfielder Muhamed Besic will be familiar as he plays for Sheffield United, while Edin Visca is a dangerous winger.

Up-and-coming young players who could make their mark on club duty between now and March include Ferencvaros defender Eldar Civic and Fehervar striker Armin Hodzic.

The boss

Robert Prosinecki has been in charge of Bosnia since January 2018, taking over from Mehmed Bazdarevic after his predecessor failed to take them to the 2018 World Cup.

Formerly an assistant to Slaven Bilic with Croatia, Prosinecki has had club experience with Red Star Belgrade, with whom he won the Serbian Cup in 2012, and Turkish side Kayserispor.

After leaving them in 2013, the 50-year-old became manager of Azerbaijan, however he elected not to renew his contract following their failure to reach the finals of Euro 2016.

That led him to take over with the Bosnians and he experienced immediate success, topping Group B3 of the Nations League and earning promotion, while also taking the team on a 10-game winning run.

He did actually resign from his post in September, following a 4-2 defeat to Armenia, only to be convinced to stay on by the Bosnian FA's board of directors, although he couldn't gain automatic qualification for Euro 2020.

The pressure is on though. If he fails to win these play-offs then Prosinecki has announced he will leave for good, so it really is win or bust for him.

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Bosnia parted company with manager Robert Prosinecki ahead of next March's Euro2020 play-off clash with Northern Ireland.

The stadium

Bosnia actually have two home stadiums, the Stadion Grbavica in Sarajevo and the Bilino Polje in Zenica, which will be used for the play-off in March.

The Bilino Polje, which is the home of local Bosnian Premier League team NK Celik, is located in the centre of the city and can hold around 15,300 fans.

The stadium is not a traditional Bosnian stadium as it is rectangular in design, similar to most UK grounds, rather than the more common oval shape seen in eastern Europe.

The Bilino Polje is also home to the Bosnian rugby union team.

Nickname

It's not an official one, but most Bosnian sports teams are referred to as Zmajevi, which translates into English as The Dragons. The football team did not adopt it as much as Bosnia's other national teams until TV commentator Marijan Mijailovic used it during a 2010 World Cup qualifier against Belgium.

The nickname alludes to famous Bosnian general Husein Gradascevic, who fought for Bosnian independence and himself was known as the "Dragon of Bosnia".

Key statistics

Most appearances: Edin Dzeko (107)

Most goals: Edin Dzeko (58)

Current world ranking: 48th

Best world ranking: 13th (August 2013)

Biggest win: 7-0 vs Estonia (H) (September 2008); 8-1 vs Liechtenstein (A) (September 2012)

Biggest defeat: 5-0 vs Argentina (A) (May 1998)

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