The Bosnia-Herzegovina forward had the chance to keep his side in the competition in the palm of his hand but his failure to take a late chance exemplified a poor nightBy Peter Staunton in Cuiaba
It was Edin Dzeko's moment. The man who has come to symbolise this Bosnia-Herzegovina team and what it means for the nation to finally perform on the world stage. It was time to preserve a point and to give Bosnia-Herzegovina one more meaningful match in the World Cup; Iran next week. Surely they would be overcome and, who knows, Bosnia would be in the knockout rounds.
It had to be him. He would have dreamed it a thousand times. He took the ball on his chest, swivelled and shot. No dream outcome. The reality here that Bosnia-Herzegovina were not good enough to earn a point against Nigeria and stay in the World Cup. The shot bobbled on the ground, caught the body of Vincent Enyeama and hit the post. With that, hopes were punctured. Time to wake up.
"We're disappointed for him," goalkeeper Asmir Begovic told Goal afterwards. "He lives and dies by his goals and when he doesn't score it's difficult."
Bosnia-Herzegovina's debut World Cup ended in Cuiaba as Peter Odemwingie's goal gave the Super Eagles the 1-0 win which eliminates the Dragons after only two matches. The goal was symptomatic of the failings of the Bosnians on the night with coach Safet Susic's decision to field Senad Lulic the nod at left back proving decisive.
All throughout the first half, Nigeria concentrated their attacks down the Bosnian left with Emmanuel Emenike, Ahmed Musa and Odemwingie taking it in turns to punish Lulic and the hapless captain Emir Spahic. He can scarcely have played a worse game for the national side. That he had Asmir Begovic behind him was important as the highly-regarded Stoke City goalkeeper repelled countless Nigerian efforts on goal.
At the other end it was a case of unfulfilled destiny. The beating heart of this Bosnia side, Dzeko had been described as "important as Lionel Messi" in the pre-match build-up by Susic. Whereas Messi's last-minute heroics against Iran assured Argentina their passage to the knockouts, Dzeko's inability to take his chances cost the Bosnians. He did, incorrectly, have a goal ruled offside and that could have made a difference to his team's fortunes but he was not the 35-goal hero who has come to exemplify everything positive about this group of players.
In the first half, he aimed shots wide, high and at the excellent Enyeama without ever looking assured. His body language did not seem right. He walked, not ran. He bowed his head with his shoulders hunched. He threw his arms despairingly out in frustration at the inept work of his team-mates. Indeed, it would not be remiss to say there were shades of Ronaldo in the 1998 World Cup final about Dzeko's game here.
"He tried," said Begovic. "He worked really hard. We tried to give him as many chances as we could. I guess it wasn't working for the whole team going forward today."
The side is geared around providing service for Dzeko but on the occasions they got him in, he could not profit. Susic paired him in the second half with Vedad Ibisevic, with whom he enjoyed a fruitful partnership in the qualification phase. There was scant demonstration of their ability to play together. In truth, they scarcely exchanged the ball.
And now Bosnia's challenge ends after two defeats. So much was promised by this team who hit the net 30 times in qualifying. Susic was concerned that a group containing Greece and Slovakia as Bosnia's chief adversaries would be ill-preparation for the real thing and so it proved. There was little verve, fluency or belief. Perhaps the weight of expectation was too much for Dzeko and his team-mates. There was no freedom in their game. He played like he was startled and not the startling unifying force he has been across his years in the national team.