There is a long list of players who will be making their World Cup debuts this summer, but only one nation that will be making its bow on the biggest stage. After beating Lithuania 1-0 in October, Bosnia and Herzegovina confirmed their place in Brazil, leading to mass celebrations around the country. The man who scored the winning goal that day was Stuttgart striker Vedad Ibišević.
It has been a funny old time for Ibišević this season, although I doubt he is laughing too much. The 29-year-old has been his usual lethal self in front of goal, with 10 strikes already in the league and another five in the rest of competitions, including a hat-trick against his former club Hoffenheim in a 6-2 mauling. However, there is a sense that all of this has been in vain. Stuttgart were eliminated from the DFB Pokal in the Second Round and managed to go out of the Europa League before the group stages had even started. The appointment of Thomas Schneider as coach at least seemed to have turned the club’s league form around, but that has collapsed as well. A run of 10 defeats in their last 11 games has left Stuttgart level on points with crisis-stricken Hamburg, and only goal difference separates them from Freiburg in one of the automatic relegation spots. The last three defeats came without the services of their leading scorer, as Ibisevic was suspended following some naughtiness against Augsburg.
He will miss a further two games (the DFB decided his clobbering of Jan-Ingwer Callsen-Bracker was a repeat offence and threw the book at him), and the ban could not have come at a worse time for his team. The Swabians need to find some form right now, as they face all of their relegation rivals in the coming weeks, ahead of a tough run-in that includes games against Bayern and Schalke. Ibišević might not be looking forward to the rest of the season with Stuttgart, or how it will end, but an event that could well be the highlight of his career lies on the horizon.
A strong performance at the World Cup would make heroes out of the players and, as a prolific striker, Ibišević has a better opportunity than most to write his name in his country’s footballing history. He scored eight times in the qualifying stages, second to only Manchester City’s Edin Džeko, as Bosnia and Herzegovina racked up a mightily impressive 30 goals over 10 games. Ibišević has also played in more than 50 international matches, making him one of the most experienced members of the squad alongside former-Hoffenheim team-mate and penalty-expert Sejad Salihović, also a regular in the starting XI. Another Bundesliga player will wear the captain’s armband; Leverkusen’s Emir Spahić is one of the veterans of the squad and at 33 this is probably the only chance he will get to represent his country at a major tournament.
Spahić may already be having nightmares about the opening game though, as Bosnia and Herzegovina take on Argentina at the Maracanã, facing up against the likes of Sergio ‘Kun’ Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ángel di María and some chap called Leo Messi. The two played out a friendly in November in St. Louis, with an Agüero brace securing a 2-0 win for Argentina. The Argentinians are quite clearly among the favourites to win the tournament (and how they would love to do that on Brazilian turf), so it is hard to see Bosnia and Herzegovina winning Group F.
It does get easier, at least on paper, after that. Nigeria are still a tough prospect, and as the reigning African champions they should not be underestimated. They also have a couple of exciting young midfielders in Ahmed Musa and Ogenyi Onazi. However, they do not have strikers of a similar calibre to Ibišević and Džeko, nor do they have anyone at the same level of skill as Miralem Pjanić to pull the strings. It should be a close game, but Bosnia and Herzegovina’s firepower could be the decisive factor. The winner of that match is likely to take second place and qualify from the group. With no disrespect intended, Iran look to be the weakest of the four teams.
If Bosnia and Herzegovina do reach the Round of 16, they will likely meet France or Switzerland and either tie would be winnable. The team has already achieved so much by reaching the tournament, but there is a real opportunity for them to go a long way. If Ibišević and co. can get into their stride, Brazil 2014 could be memorable for their country, and not just because they are taking part.
Header courtesy of bild.de
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