Here is what Ireland need to do if they are to beat Bosnia
If the Republic of Ireland are to emerge from their Bosnian assignment with their hopes of Euro 2016 qualification still burning brightly, diluting the midfield mastery of Roma’s Miralem Pjanic will be central to our hopes.
Edin Dzeko may be the biggest name in the Bosnia & Herzegovina line-up that will take on Martin O’Neill’s men in Zenica tonight, yet it is the influence of the gifted Pjanic that could swing the game away from Ireland.
It is always easy to spot a talent that is a step ahead of the rest, as their brilliance appears to flow with annoying ease and thus is the story with Bosnia’s playmaker-in-chief.
Some Serie A observers have compared Pjanic favourably to Italian national team pass master Andrea Pirlo and such acclaim is not misplaced for a star turn who has sparkled since his move to Roma in 2011.
Bosnia’s midfield jewel is cherished all the more in his homeland after he was so nearly lost to their international team, with his family’s decision to move to Luxembourg to flee their war torn homeland opening doors for young Miralem to develop his football skills.
Pjanic represented his adopted homeland of Luxembourg at under-17 and under-19 level, but by the time it had become evident that he was a star in the making with Metz and then Lyon in the French league, he was a fully signed up member of the Bosnian national team cavalry.
Smooth on the ball and accurate with his passing, it is his acumen from set-pieces that could be the key to Bosnia’s ambition to kill off Ireland’s Euro 2016 dream long before the second leg at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium on Monday night.
Baby-faced Pjanic is in red-hot form right now and his seven goals this season confirm as much, with the variety of his set-piece delivery making him one of the finest exponents of the art in European football right now.
The power he generates from a modest back lift often takes keepers by surprise, with the accuracy he can also offer leaving perceived set-piece experts in his shadow. Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi may be handed responsibility to take free-kick due to their reputation and yet statistics confirm their success rate cannot match that of Pjanic.
This selection of magical Pjanic free-kicks serve to highlight the abilities that will look to fire a dagger through Irish hearts tonight and it can only be hoped that O’Neill’s message not to concede fouls around the box is appreciated.
He is also potent from distance, with his memorable 60-yard effort in a pre-season game against Manchester United in the summer of 2014 eclipsed by his sensational free-kick goal against Lazio a couple of years earlier.
It’s little wonder that talk of £60m bids from top Premier League clubs keen to snare Pjanic have been floated in recent years, yet the midfielder tagged ‘The Little Prince’ has stayed loyal to the Giallorossi cause for now.
An appearance in next summer’s Euro 2016 finals in France may be the ideal platform for Pjanic to showcase his sumptuous talents to a wider audience and maybe then we will get a chance to watch this maestro in the Premier League.
If Ireland boss O’Neill is to dilute the Pjanic effect, he would be wise to deploy both James McCarthy and Glenn Whelan in a deep lying midfield role for the first leg against the Bosnians.
This national does not need to be entertained as we settled down for the biggest game Ireland have played since 2012. Winning is all that matters now.