Team: Bosnia and Herzegovina
Schedule: June 15 vs. Argentina; June 21 vs. Nigeria; June 25 vs. Iran
World Cup Record: N/A, first appearance as an independent nation.
Qualifying Form: Bosnia went 8-1-1 in qualifying, advancing automatically ahead of Greece on goal difference. Bosnia scored 30 goals — trailing only Germany, the Netherlands and England in that department in qualifying.
Manager: Safet Sušić, who’s been in charge since 2009. On his Wikipedia page someone drew a very nice pencil portrait of him.
Player to Watch: Miralem Pjanić. The 24-year-old Roma midfielder is versatile and serves as the team’s primary midfield cog, who can also chip in with an occasional goal. Roma finished second in Serie A and will play in the Champions League. Pjanić is one of its key players going forward. The club has proactive American ownership and is trying to build a new stadium. Given that European soccer doesn’t make sense, expect Pjanić to wind up in the rumor mill all summer despite no good reason for Roma to sell him, well, other than money. Bigger fish always eat the littler ones, even if in Roma’s case it’s not all that little.
Tactics/Style: Attack. Attack. Attack. Bosnia appeared to be one of the few teams headed to Brazil that would start two out-and-out strikers — Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević — and take the game to opponents. Džeko was in excellent form down the stretch for Premier League-winning Manchester City, scoring 26 goals overall. In pre-Cup tune ups vs. the Ivory Coast and Mexico — both wins — Sušić switched to a more defensive 4-2-3-1 with Džeko isolated alone.
Odds of winning: 150-to-1
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Miscellany: No. 1 keeper Asmir Begović grew up in Canada and played for its youth teams, but made the wise decision to play for Bosnia at the senior level. He’ll be one of the better stoppers at the tournament. … Tino-Sven Sušić is Safet Sušić’s nephew. … Ibišević went to high school in the St. Louis area and is often cited alongside Giuseppe Rossi and Nevan Subotic as potential U.S. National Team players who got away. … Whenever writing about this team it feels like Herzegovina gets the short end of the stick, you know with the whole brevity thing. …
Which One Do We Do?: Fittingly, for a nation with an “and” in its title, Bosnia has two nicknames for its National Team: the intimidating-sounding Zmajevi or, Dragons in English and the much more friendly Zlatni Ljiljani aka Golden Lilies. If a Targaryen and a Tyrell ever married we could merge the two. (Requistite GoT reference!)
Bend It Like … Salihović: Sejad Salihović’s left foot is lethal. Foul Bosnia near the penalty area at your own risk.
This is your dream debut?: Bosnia will be the 11th team to make its first World Cup finals appearance in the 21st century. Senegal (2002) and Ukraine (2006) are the most successful debutantes in this time period, each making the quarterfinals. Ghana (2006) reached the knockout stage, while Angola, China, Trinidad & Tobago, Togo, Slovenia, Ivory Coast and Ecuador each went home after three games in their respective first time on the big stage. Given its group and talent level, Bosnia should easily be thinking about advancing into the knockouts.
Last word: Bosnia is a team that’s been knocking on the door the last four years, losing out in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro playoffs to Portugal. Fortunately Cristiano Ronaldo is somebody else’s problem in Brazil and Bosnia would love to see his snarling mug since it means they’ve gotten through to the knockouts. Although Bosnia landed a manageable draw, playing Argentina could put it in an early hole making the second match vs. Nigeria a near must-win scenario.