Cuiaba: For Bosnia and Herzegovina, a victory at the World Cup finals would be another first with African champions Nigeria in their sights when the two teams lock horns, here, at the Arena Pantanal, in Group F on Saturday.
One of the many splinter nations of the former Yugoslavia, who were a soccer powerhouse in the past, the Bosnians may be newcomers on the sport’s biggest stage. But naivete is not a part of their makeup.
Coach Safet Susic, a former Yugoslavia playmaker, is targeting a place in the next round at the expense of a Nigeria side who appear in the process of disappointing again as they did at two previous finals.
Susic’s men put two-times champions Argentina under pressure on their debut earlier this week, after giving away an early own goal, and scored a smart consolation through substitute Vedad Ibisevic that turned out to be the nation’s first World Cup goal.
What the Bosnians failed to do, something that may have been the merit of the Argentine defence, was to find tall striker Edin Dzeko, their top player and a card they must use well to grab a place in the last 16.
Dzeko makes off-the-ball runs, allowing the midfielders to race through into scoring spaces. But what Bosnia and Herzegovina really need is the finisher in Dzeko in order to overcome Nigeria’s best performer, goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama.
Those who believe the weather can have an impact on matches will be expecting Nigeria to be the more comfortable side in the heat of Cuiaba, a city where average winter temperatures themselves are in excess of 20 degrees Celsius. But the Bosnians showed against Argentina that they are a compact and disciplined unit and if they play patiently, they should upset Nigeria, whose potential has fallen since the talented side of the ’90s reached the second round twice and clinched Olympic gold.
Worse, Nigeria lost defender Godfrey Oboabona to injury against Iran with Joseph Yobo, a veteran of the 2002 and 2010 finals, set to replace him. Coach Stephen Keshi also looks set to start Peter Odemwingie up front alongside Emmanuel Emenike.
Bosnian captain Emir Spahic is doubtful with a knee injury after being ruled out of Thursday’s practice. The central defender left the training ground with a huge ice block strapped around his left knee.