Thursday 8 December 2016

Edin Dzeko and Bosnia primed to make their own luck in Euro 2016 play-off lottery

Published 10/11/2015 | 02:30

Edin Dzeko in action against Andorra during Bosnia's Euro 2016 qualifier. The Roma striker scored seven of their 17 goals during their campaign
Edin Dzeko in action against Andorra during Bosnia's Euro 2016 qualifier. The Roma striker scored seven of their 17 goals during their campaign

Republic of Ireland fans will hope that Bosnia & Herzegovina are not celebrating in the Garden of Edin by the time the Euro 2016 play-off matches conclude in Dublin next Monday.

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The Edin in question is Dzeko, the big striker who represents a serious threat to the Irish defence in the away match on Friday and the home leg three days later.

Dzeko, who joined Roma for an estimated €18 million from Manchester City last August, has scored seven of their 17 goals en route to this play-off stage.

His tally might have been greater but injury ruled him out of his country's last two games against Wales and Cyprus, both of which Bosnia & Herzegovina won.

Dzeko and his equally highly-rated compatriot Miralem Pjanic scored for Roma in the Champions League last Wednesday against Bayer Leverkusen, and Dzeko was on the mark again on Sunday when he scored a penalty in Roma's 2-0 win over Lazio.

This pair and Chelsea goalkeeper Amir Begovic are the biggest names in the squad managed by former Yugoslavia international Mehmed Bazdarevic in a first competitive meeting between the teams.

Quality

In May 2012, Shane Long scored the only goal of a pre-Euro 2012 friendly at the Aviva Stadium.

Begovic, Pjanic and Dzeko played in that match as did another quality Bosnian striker, Vedad Ibisevic of Hertha Berlin.

This is new territory for the Irish, especially in Friday's first leg at the Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica, a stadium which holds only around 15,000 spectators.

Just 10,250 turned up to watch Bosnia play Wales, Gareth Bale and all, last month, a match which the home side won 2-0.

Zenica is something of a fortress for Dzeko and Co. Since September 2014, Bosnia have lost only one in seven games there - to Cyprus.

Martin O'Neill's team can expect a fiery welcome, as this opportunity to parade their wares in a European championship for the first time is huge motivation for the Bosnians.

Sometimes the passion overflows, as was evident by Emir Spahic's sacking by Bayer Leverkusen last April following an incident with stewards after the club's German Cup defeat to Bayern Munich.

Spahic apologised but received a three-month ban and a €20,000 fine from the German Football Federation.

Bosnia & Herzegovina Factfile

The country

Born out of war and division in the savage Balkans conflict of the 1990s following the break-up of Yugoslavia, the state of Bosnia & Herzegovina continues to strive for economic progress.

Unemployment is high (approximately 45pc) among the population of around 3.9 million, and the economy took a big hit in the international financial crisis of 2008.

The soccer federation

It was founded after World War II and was affiliated to the Yugoslavian FA. Following independence in 1992, the war understandably delayed membership of UEFA and FIFA.

Once the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in December 1995, FIFA accepted Bosnia & Herzegovina in 1996, with UEFA following suit in 1998.

Domestic football

A 16-team Premier League is the main focus of senior soccer in the country. Currently HSK Zrinjski top the table.

The Champions League representatives this season were FK Sarajevo who were eliminated in the second qualifying round by Lech Poznan of Poland.

They had three teams eliminated in the Europa League qualifying stages - Olympic Sarajevo, FK Zeljeznicar and HSK Zrinjski.

International team

FIFA World Ranking: 20

Coach: Mehmed Bazdarevic (55) Former star player who featured for Yugoslavia 54 times. Played most of his club career in France for Soxhaux and Nimes. Previous job: Manager of Al-Wakrah in Qatar. Appointed: December 13, 2014, replacing Safet Susic.

Bosnia & Herzegovina best achievement: Reached World Cup finals in Brazil 2014 under Susic. Lost to Argentina 2-1; Lost to Nigeria 1-0; Beat Iran 3-1.

Euro 2016 qualifying

Group B: Finished 3rd on 17 points behind Belgium (23) and Wales (21).

Played 10: Won 5, drew 2, lost 3.

Goals for 17; goals against 12.

Wins: v Andorra 5-0 (a) and 3-0 (h); v Israel 3-1 (h); v Wales 2-0 (h); v Cyprus 3-2 (a).

Draws: v Wales 0-0 (a); v Belgium 1-1 (h).Defeats: v Cyprus 1-2 (h); v Israel 0-3 (a); v Belgium 1-3 (a).

Goalscorers:

Edin Dzeko (Roma) 7

Vedad Ibisevic (Hertha Berlin) 2

Milan Duric (Cesena, Serie B) 2

Haris Medunjanin (Deportivo La Coruna) 2

Edin Visca (Istanbul BB) 2

Ermin Bikakcic (Hoffenheim) 1

Senad Lulick (Lazio) 1

Most capped player (current): Emir Spahic (Hamburg) 79

European Championship play-off record: Lost 6-2 on aggregate to Portugal in play-off for Euro 2012 finals.

Irish Independent

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