Bosnia and Herzegovina lost out 1-0 to Nigeria in their second game of Group F at the Arena Pantanal, Cuiaba and exited this summer’s World Cup tournament amidst controversial circumstances. Edin Dzeko was wrongly ruled offside after putting the ball in the back of the net and the Bosnian coaching staff felt Nigerian forward Emmanuel Emenike had fouled centre-back Emir Spahic in the build up to the African team’s match winning goal in the 23rd minute.
Bosnian coach Safet Susic persisted with his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation with a belief it would bring rigidity to Bosnia’s play and help stifle Nigeria’s attacking flow. He dropped Senad Lulic to left back which made the formation lopsided and Zvjezdan Misimovic operated ahead of him on the left wing. This enabled Miralem Pjanic to move further up field into an attacking midfield role where he could influence play and find through balls to star striker Edin Dzeko on the break and split Nigeria’s backline.
Whilst the Nigerian’s opted for a 4-2-3-1 which could switch to a 4-3-3 in transition from defence to attack with the attacking trio of Peter Odemwingie, Emenike and Ahmed Musa all able to interchange in attack, with Michael Babatunde sitting in a no.10 role providing support. Indeed their goal came from one such move.
In the opening stages it was Bosnia who took the game to Nigeria as the Europeans looked to exploit gaps in the African defence with clever movement and intricate passing, focussing particularly down their right flank with a belief that they could target Juwon Oshaniwa to gain an advantage.
However, the passing from Pjanic, Haris Medunjanin and Izet Hajrovic down the right failed to work, despite running spirals around Nigeria in their half and they couldn’t break them down. Their best chance came when Roma’s Miralem Pjanic played a superb defence splitting ball through to Dzeko to run on to and the striker rounded Vincent Enyeama and fired in. But the linesman incorrectly raised his flag and the goal was disallowed much to Bosnia’s bemusement and Nigeria’s relief, the Super Eagles had got out of jail and all of Bosnia’s hard work had come to no fruition.
Much of the blame for this defeat should lie at the hands of coach Susic. His decision to play Misimovic out wide seems a confusing one given the player looked out of place and with Lulic operating behind him he had little support and was a bystander for much of the game.
Misimovic is better when he can combine with his teammates and the plan may have been for him to combine with Pjanic when Bosnia were in possession. Instead Bosnia focussed play down the right flank and Misimovic was left looking clueless.
Perhaps Susic hoped that Lulic would get forward to support Misimovic and overlap the man deployed up field, but the Lazio man was stuck in defence as Nigeria hit on the counter and in the first half was not granted any licence to get forward.
Indeed Nigeria exposed this when Emenike burst down Nigeria’s right flank to out muscle Spahic in the box and crossed to find Odemwingie waiting in the box who left Asmir Begovic with no chance of saving his shot.
Emenike stole the show for Nigeria starring in his role leading the line upfront and he used his athleticism to drift in the channels magnificently. He won 100% of his aerial duels and managed a total of eight dribbles as he held the ball up for his teammates too to interlink with his supporting cast. He tormented Bosnia’s defenders and will have left a lasting memory for Spahic and Lulic who will never forget the night they met Emenike in Cuiaba.
The defeat left Bosnia ruing what might have been after putting up a spirited performance against Argentina in their first match and then throwing it all away against Nigeria. Mistakes from officials may have cost them the chance of qualification from the group, but poor tactical decisions from their coach did too. Nigeria meanwhile can look forward with optimism, knowing that if they clinch a point against Argentina then they will advance from Group F to the knockout stage of the World Cup after ending a run of nine games without a win at the tournament.
Follow Ryan Ross on Twitter: @rross11