Kick-off: Wednesday November 18, 2009, 20:45 (local time).
Bilino Polje, Zenica
Bilino Polje, Zenica
A Deserved Victory Almost Thrown Away
The Portuguese visit Zenica on Wednesday with the slenderest of leads, following their 1-0 victory in Lisbon on Saturday evening. Portugal dominated large parts of the first leg, with Bruno Alves grabbing the only goal of the game in the 31st minute; coolly heading a pinpoint Nani cross past the helpless Hasagic. Brazilian-born striker Liedson should have made it 2-0 early into the second-half, with the Sporting CP striker majestically flicking the ball over the final defender, only to miss a volley with his unfavoured left foot when face to face with the Bosnian keeper.
However, despite the Portuguese assuming control of the game and dictating the pace of play, the visiting side were extremely unlucky to not come away with a draw, after hitting the woodwork on three occasions during the game. The first instance of the woodwork rattling behind Portuguese goalkeeper Eduardo came just before half-time, with Ibricic meeting a whipped ball from a corner with a towering glance, only to see the ball rebound off the crossbar.
This was followed by the Balkan side once again hitting the woodwork,- not once, but twice- scuppering a gilt edged opportunity which must have left the visiting side cursing their luck. Edin Dzeko had beaten Paulo Ferreira to a far post cross from the right, only to head against the underside of the bar from six yards out, and as the goal lay gapingly at Muslimovic's mercy, the PAOK striker could only guide his shot onto the inside of the post and watch helplessly as Portugal cleared the ball to safety.
Despite the defeat suffered in Lisbon on Saturday, the Balkan nation will take many positives from the first leg, and believe they can use home advantage to its full potential and turn the tie on its head. Outspoken manager Miroslav Blazevic told Bosnian media, "It's hard to predict anything in football but we will go through in Zenica," before issuing a rallying call to his players by declaring "We can't go through if we play like we did in the first leg, but the return match will be a completely different game of football and we will apply a new strategy to surprise Portugal."
The home side will undoubtedly field a more attacking approach in the return leg, with a variation of the 3-5-2 formation a likelihood. However, the Bosnians will be wary of attacking too heavily in the early stages of the game, knowing full well that a Portuguese goal will leave them in a deep hole. In contrast to this, Blazevic’s comments to the media have focused primarily on the need for his side to attack, with the 74-year-old manager stating that his side must, "attack like famished wolves", a clear indication that the home side will attempt to take the match by the scruff of the neck from the get-go.
Carlos Queiroz has expressed his contentment at the Portuguese side's display in Lisbon, and has asked for the same in the return leg. The Portuguese coach is likely to line his side up defensively, seeking to break quickly using the pace of Nani and Liedson. ‘As Quinas’ have also reportedly been practising penalty kicks heavily during the past few days, another indication of the delicate balance that this tie hangs on.
November 14 v Portugal (A) LOST 1-0 (WC Play-off)
October 14 v Spain (H) LOST 5-2 (WC Qualifying)
October 10 v Estonia (A) WON 2-0 (WC Qualifying)
September 09 v Turkey (H) DREW 1-1 (WC Qualifying)
September 05 v Armenia (A) WON 2-0 (WC Qualifying)
November 14 v Bosnia-Herzegovina (H) WON 1-0 (WC Play-off)
October 14 v Malta (H) WON 4-0 (WC Qualifying)
October 10 v Hungary (H) WON 3-0 (WC Qualifying)
September 09 v Hungary (A) WON 1-0 (WC Qualifying)
September 05 v Denmark (A) DREW 1-1 (WC Qualifying)
Bosnia-Herzegovina are without three starters for the return leg this Wednesday, with Spahic, Muratovic and Rahimic all receiving suspensions due to accumulation of yellow cards. The loss of captain Spahic will be a considerable blow to the Balkan side, however, the Bosnian attack remains unaffected, with Dzeko, Misimovic and Ibisevic seeking to have better luck in their efforts to unlock the Portuguese defence in the return leg.
Probable Starting XI (3-5-2): Hasagic Jahic, Nadarevic, Berberovic - Salihovic, Ibricic, Jahic, Pjanic, Misimovic, – Dzeko, Ibisevic
Portugal came away from Saturday's match with a couple of injury worries, with Bruno Alves and Deco both doubts for the second leg. Both players received their injuries during the first leg, with the FC Porto centre-back receiving a knock to his ankle and the Chelsea midfielder suffering an injury to his thigh during the fixture. Both players have missed training sessions this week, however, it is hoped they can both recover in time for the crunch tie on Wednesday.
The Portuguese are likely to field a similar side in the second leg, with Carlos Queiroz relying heavily on the pace of Nani to orchestrate counter-attacks for the visiting side. If Bruno Alves and Deco are injured, expect Rolando and Tiago to play some part in Zenica.
Probable Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Eduardo – Ferreira, Carvalho, Bruno Alves, Duda – Pepe, Meireles – Simao, Deco, Nani, – Liedson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Bosnia-Herzegovina – Edin Dzeko
The Wolfsburg striker has been in fine form this season, and was unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet in the first leg, with a powerful header that hit the underside of the bar in the dying minutes in Lisbon. The forward will once again be the focal point of the Bosnian attack, and will be hoping to make up for his agonising miss in the first leg by scoring the goals that push his side to South Africa.
Portugal – Nani
The Manchester United winger has often failed to impress this season, however, much importance will be given to the pacy forward to kick-start counterattacks for the Portuguese. The ex-Sporting player is often criticised for his indecisiveness and lack of final ball; on Wednesday night his country will be needing a decisive and clinical player to turn up.
Both sides go into this match knowing full well the delicacy of the situation, with the Bosnians needing to score yet understanding the importance of keeping a clean sheet, with a Portuguese goal meaning they would need to score three on the night. In what is set to be an exhilarating atmosphere in front of a partisan crowd, both sides will feel the adrenaline rush – and weight – of playing in such a momentous fixture. The Bosnia-Herzegovina attack looks good enough to unlock the Portuguese defence, however, their need to score leaves them susceptible to the Portuguese counterattack, in what is likely to be a very close game.
Bosnia-Herzegovina 1-2 Portugal
Manuel Carvalho, Goal.com