Almost exactly two years ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina met Portugal in the play-offs for the 2010 FIFA World Cup™. Despite the absence of superstar Cristiano Ronaldo with injury, the southern Europeans won 1-0 both home and away, and booked their place at the global showdown in South Africa. Some 24 months later, the two proud footballing nations cross swords again in another winner-takes-all encounter.
Bosnia coach Safet Susic and his men are more determined than ever to seize the opportunity and claim a place at a major tournament for the first time. However, the Portuguese again stand in their way, as the sides meet in the play-offs for UEFA EURO 2012. For all the recent history between the nations, schemer Zvjezdan Misimovic has urged his team-mates to remain calm and banish any thoughts of revenge. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to the 29-year-old, who plays his club football for Dynamo Moscow.
No revenge mission
“I'm not the person to talk to about revenge or scores to settle. Portugal were the better team back then and deserved to qualify for South Africa. We now have another two-legged tie, and we'll see about giving it our best shot. With a little bit of luck, we're hoping to be at the EURO," declared the skilled midfielder, who was born in Munich and learned his trade with local giants Bayern.
However, good fortune alone will not be enough to see off a Portuguese team spearheaded by superstars Ronaldo and Nani, both nominees for the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2011. Misimovic and his team-mates have plenty of respect for the nation which finished runners-up at the European Championship on home soil in 2004. “Portugal was the most difficult draw on offer to us, and it’ll be anything but easy. On top of that, we play the first match at home, and have to go to their place for the return. That’s a disadvantage and makes it even more difficult for us," said the player, looking ahead to the fixtures on 11 and 15 November.
More quality, more self belief
However, Misimovic and Co are not lacking in confidence themselves, based on the quality currently available to coach Susic. The men from the Balkans boast top-flight stars of their own, including the likes of Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic, Sejad Salihovic and Misimovic himself.
“We've come on a long way as a team, and we have a great deal more experience compared to the World Cup play-offs, so we've taken a major step forward. We have real quality in our forward line, and we've tightened up a lot in defence recently. We've had a good run of results, and that's been a big confidence-booster," the 29-year-old said.
A passionate 15,600 full house at Bilino Polje stadium will turn the compact ground into a intimidating cauldron of noise when the Portuguese visit Zenica on 11 November. The faithful who roar on the Zmajevi (the Dragons) would take enormous pleasure and pride in their side qualifying for the tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Portugal’s patchy form
It would also provide a welcome shot in the arm when many Bosnian citizens are struggling to make ends meet. “Everyone knows conditions in Bosnia are far from ideal. The war’s been over for many years now, but everywhere you look, there are still scars from the conflict. Qualifying would mean a huge amount to our people. They could put their day-to-day problems behind them just for a moment, get together and enjoy a massive party. We want to put smiles back on Bosnian faces. It would be a dream come true," the former German Bundesliga star declared.
However, that is not to underestimate the scale of the task against opponents who have not missed a major tournament since 2002, and last failed to qualify for the European showdown in 1992. Nevertheless, Portugal's form in a qualifying group for the 2012 tournament comprising Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Cyprus was patchy to say the least, hence their presence in the play-off round.
“They have a superb team with the likes of Ronaldo, Nani and Moutinho, and they'll carry the fight to us. But it's not all gone to plan for them, because given their potential and their star players, everyone thought they'd qualify directly for the EURO,” Misimovic reflected.
Silencing the critics
For Zwetschge, the father of two’s nickname since he was a boy, the upcoming double-header could provide a note of personal redemption. The midfielder was injured at the time of the FIFA World Cup head-to-head, but rumours surfaced that he actually declined to appear in the second match.
“These play-offs are certainly a bit special for me. A story went around back then that I voluntarily pulled out of the second game against Portugal, but that's total rubbish. I want to silence all my critics, give it my best shot against Portugal, and do what I can to take us to the finals," he promised. So as it turns out, perhaps there is a hint of a revenge mission after all, if not directed at Portugal, but at the player’s personal doubters.