By Zoran Milosavljevic
Having played entertaining and high-scoring football to qualify for their first World Cup, Bosnia reverted to an unfamiliar defensive strategy and were severely punished for not taking risks against modest opposition on Saturday.
An industrious Nigeria outfit lacking the talent of previous generations was still too good for toothless Bosnia, whose nervy maiden appearance on the big stage ended in a tame exit.
Despite a lucky break after Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko’s effort was wrongly flagged offside shortly before Peter Odemwingie’s clinical winner, Nigeria fully deserved their 1-0 success and should have won by a bigger margin in Cuiaba.
Odemwingie’s Stoke City team mate Asmir Begovic was by some way Bosnia’s best player in the match and his string of superb saves underlined Nigeria’s thorough domination.
The Bosnians will no doubt rue the offside call and Dzeko’s last-gasp shot which hit the keeper and deflected back off the woodwork, though there was a suspicion of handball, but both incidents came firmly against the run of play.
When the dust settles, Bosnia’s coach Safet Susic will want to revisit his decision to start with a cagey 4-5-1 formation which was fragile at the back, bereft of ideas in midfield and lacked bite up front.
In contrast, his counterpart Stephen Keshi was rewarded for an adventurous formation with Emmanuel Emenike ruthlessly exploiting a glaring chink in Bosnia’s left flank, where wing-back Senad Lulic failed to hold his own.
One such raid presented Odemwingie with a simple finish after Emenike raced past Bosnia captain Emir Spahic, too often exposed with Lulic ineffectually pressing forward, and squared the ball to the scorer.
Like in the opening 2-1 defeat by Argentina, Susic left striker Vedad Ibisevic on the bench and again the coach’s lack of guile backfired with the isolated Dzeko reduced to sporadic attempts.
Many of Dzeko’s 10 came as a result of Ibisevic’s intelligent movement in the two-man frontline, carving out chances which were few and far between in a meek display against the Nigerians.
Not even the fact that Ibisevic scored a consolation shortly after coming on against Argentina could persuade Susic to hand him back his spot in the starting lineup, which looked completely at sea against Nigeria.
Starting with Haris Medunjanin in the centre of a packed midfield also paid no dividends as Nigeria’s John Obi Mikel and Ogenyi Onazi made the centre of the field their own.
Having realised his blunders, Bosnia’s coach threw on Ibisevic for ineffectual winger Izet Hajrovic, Sejad Salihovic for the outpaced Lulic and his nephew Tino Sven Susic for Medunjanin but the damage had already been done.
Begovic fought off one Nigeria attempt after another, some from long range and others from inside the area, before the African side’s keeper Vincent Enyeama diverted Dzeko’s shot on to the post to deny the Bosnians a lifeline equaliser. (Reuters)