Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded their maiden FIFA World Cup™ campaign with a 3-1 victory over Iran that thwarted their opponents’ hopes of squeezing into the Round of 16 at the expense of Nigeria in Group F.
With Argentina taking maximum points from the other fixture in the section, the Iranians could have secured second place and progression with a win of their own, but a trio of timely strikes by the European debutants extinguished such ambitions and provided coach Safet Susic with reason to smile before returning home.
While qualification for the next stage was beyond his country no matter the result in Salvador, the determination of Edin Dzeko to depart the tournament with a goal was abundantly clear. After the Manchester City forward’s venomous volley from ten yards took a deflection over the crossbar, he stretched his neck to redirect a promising centre but watched the header loop into the hands of Iran goalkeeper Alireza Haghighi.
On 23 minutes, though, the 28-year-old could celebrate. With seemingly little danger to Carlos Queiroz’s well-drilled Iranians, Dzeko collected a simple pass into space midway inside the opposition half. His execution was simple but clinically effective – stride forward, dribble across the defence into freedom and cannon an unstoppable, low left-footer into the right corner from distance for 1-0.
The Asians were almost level within seconds; attacking along the right flank, the ball was worked back to the near edge of the penalty area and Masoud Shojaei, whose quickly-plotted attempt to loft up and over Asmir Begovic was aided by a slight nick but cruelly struck the top of the woodwork. The move typified an encouraging response by Iran, suddenly finding a sense of adventure and urgency.
Boosted by clinching the opener, Dzeko was at the centre of everything positive for the Bosnians and it was his incisive through pass that dissected the Iranian backline to release Avdija Vrsajevic. The No2 raced onto the delivery but snatched at the opportunity to blast on the diagonal and merely knocked the ball well wide to the left.
In contrast to the prolific nature of the simultaneous Group F fixture between Argentina and Nigeria, where the goals rained in from kick-off, fluidity and rhythm were at a premium for both sides at the outset of the second half in this one. At the hour mark, however, both characteristics were evident for all to see.
Iran defender Jalal Hosseini surrendered possession far too cheaply deep inside his own half and, in the blink of an eye, Bosnia and Herzegovina doubled their advantage. Seizing the chance, Tino Susic threaded a perfectly weighted assist into the adjoining run in the left channel by Miralem Pjanic, who shifted his weight and curled a side-foot hit around the stretch of Haghighi to end the stylish play in sublime fashion.
As a deluge unfolded above them and each team contemplated the closing stages of their participation at Brazil 2014, Reza Ghoochannejad refused to relent. Having had one effort blocked and sent another wide, he finally opened the tournament account for Queiroz’s men by tapping home after being found completely unmarked at the back post by a drill across the area.
Irritated by the concession, Bosnia and Herzegovina promptly sprinted in the opposite direction and, when Vrsajevic took up responsibility as he hurtled down the right wing, the full-back picked his preferred spot of the net and lashed a powerful shot precisely where he hoped to. Iran hopes evaporated and their Group F rivals took up residence at the next stage.