Toothless in Zenica

Whatever happens in Zenica, stays in Zenica, right?  Maybe not this time around as a post-match brawl erupted after the match on June 9, reportedly ignited by tensions between Roma teammates Edin Dzeko and Kostas Manolas.  It quickly evolved into a sideline scuffle resulting in a lost tooth for Giannis Gianniotas, thanks to a whopping punch delivered by assistant coach Gilli Stephane (who, of course, actually appears to be an MMA fan).

Look, I know I’m the one that wrote that we should embrace our Balkan temperament – and sometimes a little aggression is a good thing, but this was not the way to go about it. Everything from yesterday’s match – from the tactics, to the mid-match changes, to the performance of the players, to the post-game antics was all wrong, and as custom demands, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Where do I start?  The formation and starting lineup was a throwback and unflattering to the players we have at our disposal.  It remains a mystery why Bazdarevic continues to force the same tired 4-4-2 down our throats when it has proven to be ineffective and uncreative against tough defenses such as Greece.

In concept, the lineup was not terrible – especially with an experienced player such as Mato Jajalo (Palermo) in midfield, but the problem was that Bosnia’s midfield could not establish any sort of rhythm during the course of the game.  At certain points, Miralem Pjanic was forced in extremely neutral or defensive positions as a result.  What this meant was that the service to Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic came only from the wings, thanks mostly to Edin Visca (Lulic was taken out early because of an injury).  Dzeko and Ibisevic have proven they can play together against certain opponents, but against tougher or more defensive opposition, the two do not compliment each other or create space for chances.

This brings me to my second point – substitutions and adjustments.  In this category, Bazdarevic deserves another failing grade.  Instead of replacing Senad Lulic with another winger – in order to keep the shape of his side and continue the attack on the flanks, he brings on a striker (a third striker, mind you) – Kenan Kodro.  I cannot blame young Kodro’s performance during this match which was spirited and respectable but he has no place at this position on the field, as hard as he tried.  And then of course, we have the mysterious subbing out of the same player Bazdarevic subbed in – in essence admitting his own mistake in the 77th minute in favor of Muhamed Besic.

I can appreciate the fact that Bazdarevic wanted to use an aggressive formation to press the Greeks and go for the win at home, but when your forwards have no service, and your midfield gets overrun forcing mistakes and lack of rhythm, it results in system failure.  The same failure we always seem to complain about when the chips are down late in qualifiers.  With no concrete plan in mind, Bazdarevic seemed to panic when Lulic was taken out of the match and seemingly pointed to the first face he saw sitting on the bench.  More thoughtful tactical mindfulness is needed from a national team coach.

The players themselves showed very little.  Apart from a couple of decent chances from Dzeko, very few chances were created and the team looked lackluster in front of the home fans for the entire 90 minutes.  At certain points, even a mediocre and defensive Greek side looked to be in control of the tempo and caught us flatfooted at the back.  A very slow back four meant Greek counters were effective at certain points.  Arsenal’s new man, Sead Kolasinac was sorely missed during the game, as was a faster presence at one of the centreback positions.  Perhaps Bazdarevic should consider the in vogue 3-4-3 formation or another variant to shore up the defensive and provide stability on the flanks.

But should we blame Bazdarevic or is the whole football federation, from the ground up to blame here?  Bazdarevic was never the man for the job, as I wrote countless times before and others did as well.  Whatever the case may be, there is plenty of blame to go around and it will find its way, as it always does.

So where do we go from here?  In principle, Bosnia still controls its own destiny with four remaining matches:  Cyprus (A), Gibraltar (A), Belgium (H), and Estonia (A).  Belgium lead the group with 16 points, followed by Greece with 12, and Bosnia with 11.  Greece have arguably the easier schedule with Estonia (H), Belgium (H), Cyprus (A), and Gibraltar (H).

There is plenty of football to be played, but with this type of performance and coaching, it wont be the Greeks that will continue to look toothless.

 

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