Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic needs no introducing to French football fans. Between 1982 and 1991, the classy attacking midfielder called the shots for Paris Saint-Germain, earning a lasting place in the affections of the fans and in the history of the club.
Two decades on from his last appearance for PSG, the man they call Papet is back on centre stage in Paris, aiming to steer his country to UEFA EURO 2012 by defeating Group D leaders France on Tuesday evening.
“France are a very fine side, and they’ve been one of the best in the world for the last 30 years now,” the Bosnia coach told FIFA.com ahead of a match that could see the Balkan nation, already assured of a play-off place, reach the finals of a major competition for the first time. “They’ve got a few players out with injury but they won’t be any weaker for that. There’s no question they’re the favourites and for us to beat them in their backyard is virtually mission impossible.”
As Susic goes on to explain, Tuesday’s crunch game will stir no special memories for him. “There’s no Bosnian who’s more French than I am,” he said with a smile. “I’ve lived here for 30 years now, so it’s not as if I’m making my return or anything like that. There’s no reason for me to look on this game with any kind of nostalgia and I don’t feel there’s anything special about it. It’s almost like a home game for me.”
Bosnia on a roll
Susic enjoyed a distinguished stay with the Parisians, winning the 1985 French Cup and the league title the year after, and being voted Ligue 1’s best foreign player in 1983. The scorer of 21 goals in 54 appearances for the former Yugoslavia, in 2003 he was named Bosnia-Herzegovina’s greatest player of the last 50 years.
“I had a long career as a player and it will be hard for me to match that as a coach,” he commented, reflecting on his many achievements.The fact is, however, that Susic has done a fine job since taking up the national team reins, maintaining the momentum his predecessor Miroslav Blazevic established in leading the Bosnians to the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Currently occupying an all-time high position of 22nd in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, Bosnia-Herzegovina have a solid defence marshalled by the imposing Emir Spahic and a genuine cutting edge up front, where the tandem formed by Miralem Pjanic and Edin Dzeko poses a potent threat.
Those virtues have been reflected in a largely consistent UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying campaign, in which the Bosnians have made light of a 2-0 defeat to France (their only home loss under Susic) and a 3-0 reverse in Romania to stand just a point behind the French going into Tuesday’s section decider.
Everyone’s talking about a potential shock here, but I’m realistic. Beating Luxembourg was the priority for us.
“My first objective was to finish in the top two in the section,” said Susic. “And I think I’ve got a squad that’s good enough to aim for a place at the European Championships.”
Tourists on a mission
“We’ve got the resources to put a good team together but the picture changes as soon as we have an injury or two,” he commented, addressing what he sees as a lack of strength in depth. “You could see that in the game against Belarus (a 1-0 home win in September), when we were without Spahic and Pjanic. We had a real job getting past a side that went down to ten men and then nine.
“Great players set the standard and when you don’t have any in the side then that standard drops,” continued Susic. “What I mean is that if you don’t have competition for places, then you don’t have a team. We’ve only got 13 to 14 players who are made of the right stuff. The rest are not that great.”
Dzeko is one of the world-class players Susic has at his disposal, and the Manchester City man says he is up for the fight at the Stade de France: “We’re full of confidence and very motivated. We’re delighted to have secured a play-off place, but it would be just fantastic to go on and qualify for EURO 2012. We’ve got the spirit and the quality to take on any challenge, so there’s no reason why we can’t beat France.”
“Everyone’s talking about a potential shock here, but I’m realistic,” said Susic, playing down expectations. “Beating Luxembourg was the priority for us. That meant we could come to France as little more than daytrippers.”
Should Susic mastermind a win in the city where he once starred, however, the Bosnians can start making plans for a much longer trip next summer - to Poland and Ukraine.