Bosnia-Herzegovina v Portugal, World Cup qualifying play-off second leg, November 18, 2009
Having won 1-nil at the weekend, Portugal take a wafer thin lead to Sarajevo on Wednesday in the knowledge that even this slender advantage could have so easily beenÂ worse.
With only seconds remaining on the clock in the first-leg of Portugal’s tie with Bosnia, Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko (13/2 to score first) found himself in space in the Selecao box and on the receiving end of a Miralem Pjanic cross. Incredibly, the serial-goalscorer saw his powerful header crash against the crossbar, with the rebound bouncing to teammate Zlatan Muslimovic, who seemingly had an easy task of pushing the ball into the empty net. But instead of Muslimovic netting what would have been a crucial away goal, the schemer saw his effort smash against the upright and back into play.
The decisive moment was not lost on Portugal’s continuously under-pressure coach Carlos Queiroz, who was forced to admit after the match, “I think with the image of that moment when the ball hit the post and the bar we can recognise we were lucky.”
(The footage can be seen 1.30 minutes into this video.)
Looking to turn lady luck in their favour, the Bosnians have carefully decided not to play the second-leg at Sarajevoâ€™s 37,500 capacity Olympic Stadium – the country’s premier football venue. Believing that the comfort of the Olympic Stadium would benefit the Portuguese, the venue for Wednesday’s night match will be Zenicaâ€™s hostile 25,000 capacity Bilino Polje stadium.
Bosnian players and fans are said to prefer Zenica and with Bosnia undefeated in their first 15 games at the Bilino Polje, the stadium is considered a curse for visiting teams â€“ though Spain did record a 5-2 win in the final game of their qualifying group.
That said, Portugal do not need to win in Bosnia to qualify as a draw would confirm their qualification to South Africa.
Shorn of Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal will again look to perform without the world’s most expensive footballer. In doing so they will look to their backline to shut out the Bosnians once more as the defensive quality and resilience provided by the likes of Ricardo Carvalho (12/1 to score), Pepe and Satuday’s goalscorer Bruno Alves (8/1 to score) could hold the key to unlocking their World Cup place.
Further forward, Portugalâ€™s newly naturalised striker Liedson (9/1 to score a brace) will again lead the line on his lonesome, with the diddy-men of Simao and Deco (11/2 to score & Portugal win) buzzing around in the hole, while Luis Nani will be praying that for once all his tricks, flicks and crosses from wide areas prove effective.
Bosnia though will believe that they have the fire-power and quality to upset the odds, although they will need to do so without the services of three important players. Defenders Emir Spahic, Elvir Rahimic and Samir Muratovic were all booked in Lisbon, ruling them out of the second leg. (Bosnia are 12/5 to keep a clean sheet.)
With their defence at sixes and sevens, Miroslav Blazevic will be hoping his star-studded array of attackers can outscore the opposition. And his hope is far from hollow, with the likes of Edin Dzeko, Vedad Ibisevic (16/5 for either Dzeko or Ibisevic to score first), Zvjedan Misimovic, Miralem Pjanic (6/1 to score) and Zlatan Muslimovic all capable of finding the back of the net with a moment of individual or collective skill.
While the first leg was a somewhat cagey affair, Bosnia will be expected to go hell for leather in front of their home fans. Portugal are undoubtedly capable of getting on the scoresheet themselves, and should they do so this match could be a goal-fest with the Eastern Europeans knowing that one goal for the Selecao will leave them needing to score three to qualify.
101predicts: Bosnia 3 – Portugal 1 (25/1)
Full match odds here.