Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Brazil of the Balkans?
Bosnia - now with 100% more Herzegovina! - is one of the more intriguing teams to back in this summer's World Cup, and should win over quite a few fans with their style of play. In addition to being the subject of one of the greatest Onion articles of all time, they also happen to play some of the most attractive football at the tournament, with a number of world class players in attack and an unapologetic manager who refuses to play it safe.
The name Americans will be most familiar with is Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, whose 12 goals in 2014 led all players in the second half of the Premier League season. He’s an imposing player with a big frame and graceful feet, and he's able to score in a variety of ways with an incredible strike rate of 33 goals in 60 games for his country.
Alongside him in attack is another handful, Stuttgart’s Vedad Ibisevic, whose predatory abilities in the box could see him rank among the top goal scorers over the next few weeks. He’s more of a poacher than a creator, but he should get plenty of chances playing in front of 24 year old Miralem Pjanic, a player who’s as good as any at pulling the strings from his number 10 position.
Pjanic is a rising star for Roma, a dazzling dribbler and even better passer, who scored a goal this year against Milan that must be seen to be believed. He should create plenty of chances for Dzeko and Ibisevic, who were the second and third highest goal scorers during UEFA World Cup qualification, netting 10 and 9 goals, respectively. Pjanic will be joined in midfield by Salihovic, a deadly free kick specialist who can play virtually anywhere on the field.
Calling the shots for BiH is Safet Susic, a Machiavellian manager full of personality and strong opinions. No manager in world football subscribes to the old adage of the best defense being a good offense, and while he’s seemingly unable to settle on who his defenders will be, the results speak for themselves, with Bosnia-Herzegovina having conceded just six goals during qualification. Sead Kolasinac is a 20-year-old left back recently linked with Manchester United, and can claim one of the tournament’s best nicknames - The Destroyer.
The team doesn't lack for egos or fiery personalities, and the relationship between their coach and star player is rocky at best. When Dzeko asked to be taken off against Egypt, saying he was carrying an injury, his manager responded “He will play when I tell him to play. I decide.” The confidence exuded by both the team and the coaching staff come in handy, as you could not ask for a more daunting debut game, which will come at the legendary Maracana Stadium in Rio against world power Argentina.
In addition to an impressive 2.32 nERD score in numberFire’s efficiency rating system, Bosnia-Herzegovina have nearly a 70% chance of qualifying from their group, and would likely face France in the round of 16. They drew one of the tournament’s longer straws, facing a weak Nigeria squad and an even weaker Iran. Whether or not the big personalities can mesh under the bright lights of the World Cup remains to be seen, but if they keep their heads, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a virtual lock to advance out of their group. While you won’t get great odds on such a bet, it will certainly be fun to watch.