Cuiaba, Brazil: For Bosnia, a victory at the World Cup finals would be another first with African champions Nigeria in their sights at the Pantanal arena in Group F on Saturday.
One of the many splinter nations of the former Yugoslavia, who were a soccer power in their day, they 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 this century.
Bosnia put twice champions Argentina, among the favourites for the title, under pressure on their debut on Sunday after giving away an early own goal and scored a smart consolation though substitute Vedad Ibisevic, the nation’s first World Cup goal.
What Bosnia failed to do, which may have been the merit of the Argentine defence, was to find tall striker Edin Dzeko, their top player and the card they must play well to grab a place in the last 16.
Dzeko makes off the ball runs to allow the midfielders to race through into scoring spaces but Bosnia really need him as a finisher 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 in the very middle of South America where average winter temperatures are in the higher 20s Celsius.
But Bosnia 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 1990s reached the second round twice and won Olympic gold.
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.
Bosnia’s 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.
Midfielder Sejad Salihovic, who can also be deployed as a left back, is struggling to shake off a long-term injury but assistant coach Borce Sredojevic was confident he would recover.
“I am optimistic about Spahic’s chances because we all know his will-power and what he means to the team,” Sredojevic told reporters in Bosnia’s Guaruja base.
Susic seems to be pondering whether to stick to a conservative 4-5-1 formation which looked well organised but lacked bite against Argentina or finally unleash his more preferred 4-4-2 with Ibisevic starting alongside Dzeko.