Losing is not the worst thing that can happen, not if you have a courageous and positive performance to be proud of. Losing to a clearly superior opponent is understandable. You can still lift your head high knowing you had a real go. I had that feeling when Bosnia-Herzegovina lost 1-0 to Portugal in a hard fought play-off in Lisbon years ago. I don’t have that feeling now. What I feel now is more akin to shame and embarrassment.
Once again we’ve fallen short except this time it wasn’t against a more talented group of players or a footballing superpower; it was against the Republic of Ireland, a scrappy but technically inferior team that hadn’t managed to score more than 1 goal at home for an entire year. And this time, there is no positives, no ballsy performance, no encouraging future to take comfort in.
Every pundit I came across considered us the favourites. After the first leg in Zenica ended in a flat 1-1 draw thanks to an unnecessary and unbalanced tactical change from Bazdarevic, all those pundits and experts expressed their disappointment in Bosnia’s performance but they treated it as little more than a blip. They talked up Edin Dzeko’s lethal finishing and Miralem Pjanic’s creative and technical genius. They were sure we would improve in the second leg and cause the Irish major problems.
Instead, Martin O’Neill’s Ireland carried out his simple but effective plan to near perfection and once again Bosnia choked on the big occasion, putting in one of the worst performances I have ever seen and losing 2-0. Another qualification cycle down the drain and once again for the same old reasons. For a moment I considered the possibility that Safet Susic had somehow returned wearing Mehmed Bazdarevic’s skin.
This can’t go on. Questions must be asked, and solutions must be found.
Why are we continuously under-preforming? Why do we always choke for the biggest games, the games we should relish? Why are we so psychologically weak and moody? Why are most of our players unable to recreate their club form for the national team? Why has Miralem Pjanic never played for the national team nearly as well as he plays for Roma on a regular basis? Why do our coaches tactically shackle Pjanic instead of building the whole team around him?
Why do we call up players who don’t even play for their clubs when there are other options? Why do we ignore promising young players just keep to declining veterans around? Why do we hire unproven unprofessional Bosnian coaches instead of a decent foreign manager that will finally instil some order and discipline?
Why did nations like Albania, Hungary, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Sweden, and Wales all qualify for Euro 2016 and we did not? Some of those squads are of comparable quality to Bosnia and some are much weaker. Yet they all qualified and we did not.
Why do we have no heart? Where is the steel? The pride? THE BALLS?
Bazdarevic deserves credit for picking up the pieces after Susic’s catastrophic start and turning our fortunes around enough to make the play-offs. He also deserves strong criticism for his naive line-ups and foolish tactical decisions in the play-off. We were playing bad sloppy football but nobody cared because he was getting good (and some would say fortunate) results, but that can only last for so long and our luck ran out against the well drilled and organized Irish.
The fact is Bazdarevic failed to prepare his team psychologically and tactically for the two biggest matches of the campaign. The man was visibly distraught after our elimination but he still managed to throw in a few of the traditional Bosnian excuses about referees, injuries, the weather conditions, and pressure. Dzeko was the most honest of the bunch telling reporters “we can’t win a game we didn’t even play” and that Bosnia didn’t deserve to go to Euro 2016.
This team needs a serious facelift and at least half a dozen players, especially the ageing vets who don’t have the legs any more, have to be moved to the bench or removed completely. Younger, hungrier, more modern players have to be given a chance. Bazdarevic may be better than Susic, but not by much, and his performances and decisions over the last 5 matches have not convinced me that he is the right man to rebuild this team for a brighter future. He is yet another Bosnian coach who does not learn from his mistakes quickly enough. I like the man but he’s just not good enough for the job.
Vahid Halilhodzic and Vladimir Petkovic are the only quality Bosnian mangers and since they are both currently beyond our reach, Bosnia should be looking for a proven foreign manager. Someone not burdened by the “Balkan mentality”. Foreign managers have gotten more out of these players for their clubs than any Bosnian manager ever has for the national team.
After our disappointing World Cup experience in Brazil, the Bosnian FA made the mistake of renewing Susic’s contract. He was then sacked anyway only four matches later but the damage was done and that foolish decision cost us direct qualification for Euro 2016. I fear we may make a similar mistake with Bazdarevic and doom our journey to the 2018 World Cup before it even begins.