Bosnia and Herzegovina have ended their World Cup 2018 qualifying run with a 1-2 away victory in Tallinn, against Estonia. Izet Hajrovic scored twice to make sure the Dragons finish third in the group, behind Belgium and Greece. Even though they ended on a somewhat positive note, this campaign left much to be desired and you can’t help but think Bosnia shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions, specifically the Cyprus away game, where they let a 0-2 lead slip away, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
But what happens now, more specifically, what happens to the ‘golden generation’ that brought us to our first major tournament?
It’s clear that Mehmed Bazdarevic is not the man for the job. Ending the EURO 2016 qualifiers in a playoff defeat to Ireland, and botching this latest campaign, Bazdarevic has consistently shown, well, inconsistency. Throughout his tenure, he has failed to establish a stable tactical system and to pin down a starting lineup that was reliable and steadfast, especially on defense. His tactical mistakes and lineup troubles are wholly documented, and I will not dredge them up further here (although it may be required once more, if he continues to insist he is the right man for the job).
The Golden Generation
Perhaps one of the saddest realities Bosnian fans have to face is the fact that the “Golden Generation,” of players is aging, and we are at vital crossroads. Even though a number of these players probably have another campaign in them, incorporating younger players will be crucial.
Edin Dzeko (31), Emir Spahic (37), Asmir Begovic (30), Haris Medunjanin (32), Vedad Ibisevic (33), Senad Lulic (31), Sejad Salihovic (33), Miralem Pjanic (27).
For reference, seven of these players are in the Top 10 of Bosnia’s all time appearances (caps) with Emir Spahic still leading the pack at 93. A number of these players will most likely call it quits (Spahic, Ibisevic, Salihovic), with Medunjanin and Lulic still questionable.
This leaves a considerable gap in the cadre, with Edin Dzeko (arguably Bosnia’s most important player in recent history) only being available for one more campaign, or two at most (optimistically). Spahic’s absence was already felt for a long stretch during the qualifiers. Despite his hot temper, his veteran presence and command of the back line would have cobbled together some sort of discipline instead of rag-tag defending with no purpose. At the moment, we are sorely missing a leader on defense.
In midfield, problems may not be as drastic, but are still worrisome. In the final two games, against Belgium and Estonia, Haris Medunjanin (32) stepped up and provided essential playmaking in the absence of Miralem Pjanic (27), who has underperformed for quite some time now.
Luckily, there are some silver linings. In attack, Edin Dzeko is still the same vibrant and prolific goalscorer. In the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, Dzeko had 10 goals, and 7 during the 2016 EURO qualifiers. This time around, he had 6. Even though this may seem like a gradual decline, he could have added to this tally on numerous occasions, and continues to produce on the club level as well (recently being nominated for the Ballon’d’Or and finishing as Serie A top goalscorer last season). On the rise are Meho Kodro’s son, Kenan Kodro (24), another tall center forward, and Armin Hodzic (22) a shorter, speedier type of attacker.
Miralem Pjanic, despite his shortcomings this campaign, is still only 27, even though at times it seems like he has been around forever. If Bosnia is to advance to another major tournament, Pjanic will have to elevate his game for the national team (a competent manager will assist with this process).
Muhamed Besic is also only 25, but if he is to fill that Elvir Rahimic destroyer role, he must stay healthy for Bosnia. There are also other talented midfielders coming through the pipeline. Even though it’s still too early to tell, Haris Duljevic (23) seems to be a player the team can depend on for the foreseeable future. His energy and speed are sorely needed on the roster, and if he can maintain a level of focus and series of solid club performances, he may cement a starting role on the team. On the other side, after a long absence, and living in the limelight of past glory (the goal vs. Slovakia), Izet Hajrovic (26) seems to have improved his form somewhat (netting twice against Estonia). Of course, the energetic Edin Visca (27) has been a bright spot during the qualifiers (3 goals and 3 assists) and should most likely start either on the wings or as a supporting striker. His versatility is a huge bonus for the team.
In central midfield, the situation is not as clear. Even though players like Gojko Cimirot (24), Rade Krunic (24), Sanjin Prcic (23), Deni Milosevic (22) and Amer Gojak (20) have been touted as the solution, none have lived up to their potential with often lazy play and haphazard passing (Krunic, I’m looking at you). Perhaps a better manager will unlock their potential, or another player altogether will be incorporated. The U-21 team seems to have some promising players on the roster as well, but they also need experience and time. There seems to be no easy fix here.
On defense, the situation is even more complicated. Bazdarevic has done nothing to improve the situation, arguably making it even worse off then before he arrived. He has failed to cement a starting defense, with Sead Kolasinac being the only consistent player at the LB slot, where he has been a rising star. Luckily, there is some positive news here too. Dario Dumic (25) could be a player that has the intelligence and skill to start at one of the two CB slots. The other one is a rotating chair game at the moment. Between Zukanovic (30), Cocalic (29), Bicakcic (27) and Sunjic (28), none inspire confidence or evoke leadership. Once again, the answer may come in the form of some fresh blood. Celtic’s Jozo Simunovic (23) is a tall, athletic player with a gritty style that could compliment Dumic’s no nonsense style. There is also the rising Samir Memisevic (24) that made his name slowly rising through the ranks from the Bosnian domestic league to playing in the Netherlands at Groningen. Once again, there is no easy answer. Perhaps most troubling is the right-back role. At the moment, there is no single player that can be pointed to as a potential solution. Vranjes (27) and Mateo Susic (26) have been lackluster to downright mistake prone.
A competent manager will most likely solve the lineup and tactical puzzle. There is enough raw talent to work with. If Bosnia is fortunate to be cast into another easy group, a little tactical know-how and discipline will be enough to get the job done, even with the current roster how it is. The hard part will be actually hiring a manager that meets this criteria, since the federation is a mirror of the political situation in the country, corrupt and incompetent.
There is also the issue of talent production. Bosnia has for a long time now depended on legionnaire players (who make up the majority of the ‘golden generation,’ with the exception of Dzeko), foreign born or raised players that opted to play for the country of their parents. This talent pool will soon dry out, and the country will be forced to use only domestically produced talent, which is not plentiful at the moment, mostly because the domestic league is one of the worst in Europe, and the football federation completely uninterested in improving the situation. Bosnia still has a narrow window and maybe even a couple of campaigns to enjoy the services of foreign based talent, but once this ends, the team will face a doomsday scenario, one I have written about countless times.
If the domestic league is not improved, including through the help of a worthwhile manager who helps facilitate this process, we may not just be looking at the sunset of our golden generation, but a dark age for our national team, once again.