World Cup 2014: Safet Susic on brink of sack as debut campaign turns sour for Bosnia

Manager has been criticised for changing Bosnia’s formation to 4-2-3-1 before the World Cup began

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Bosnia-Herzegovina arrived at the World Cup finals on the back of a fairy-tale journey. They were the small Balkan nation making their debut on the world stage with a group of players who grew up in a civil war, yet sadly the destination has proved something of a disappointment.

Their first two fixtures against Argentina and Nigeria brought narrow defeats and, with it, elimination and the recriminations have already begun ahead of their farewell match against Iran today.

This was apparent on Monday as striker Vedad Ibisevic mused over the reasons for their failure. It was a message of shared responsibility, except reading between the lines, it was anything but. “All of us are to blame,” he said, “some more than others but...it’s all about the team.”

The “some” to whom Ibisevic refers begins with coach Safet Susic, the man who led Bosnia on their journey, but is now the target for media criticism, not least for his tactics. After qualifying with a 4-4-2 system with strikers Edin Dzeko and Ibisevic – who between them scored 18 times – he switched to a 4-2-3-1 in the lead-up to the finals, dropping Ibisevic. It worked in friendly wins over Mexico and Ivory Coast but after two defeats in Brazil, disgruntled Bosnian observers are querying why he saw the need to fix something that was not broken; not least given their only goal came when Ibisevic stepped off  the bench against Argentina. His defensive reshuffle against Nigeria – which included the dropping of his two first-choice full-backs – did not pay off, either.

 

There must be some sympathy for a coach whose side conceded an unlucky third-minute own goal against Argentina, and saw a legitimate Dzeko goal ruled out for offside with the game goalless against Nigeria. “Had we seen our goal allowed we would need just one point tomorrow to make the last 16,” Susic observed.

It is also worth noting that too many of his players have not performed to the required standard, starting with Dzeko. The Manchester City striker might have had a goal disallowed against Nigeria but he also missed an excellent late chance, scuffing a shot that goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama deflected on to a post. It was a chance that Dzeko at his sharpest would have converted and the fact he has not uttered a word to the Bosnian press since May has not boosted his popularity. 

Those players who have lived up to expectations – Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and 21-year-old midfielder Muhamed Besic – are in a minority, and Susic will pay the price with his job. “That day will come to bid my farewell to the team but this is not the right moment to discuss it,” he said yesterday.

It is Carlos Queiroz’s Iran, not Bosnia, who go into this fixture with hope of reaching the last 16. After holding Nigeria 0-0 and losing to a late Lionel Messi goal, they will guarantee a historic qualification if they win by two goals and Nigeria lose to Argentina. If they won 1-0 and Nigeria lose 1-0, a drawing of lots would decide who progresses.

That is not Susic’s concern. “Many people will not forget this is a generation that made [the country’s] debut at the World Cup,” he said. “We need a bit more international experience but much will depend on tomorrow’s match – it is a chance to redeem ourselves.”

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