With Ronaldo set for the sidelines, Portugal hope to avoid a Bosnian banana-skin

With Ronaldo set for the sidelines, Portugal hope to avoid a Bosnian banana skinPortugal v Bosnia-Herzegovina, World Cup qualifying play-off, November 14, 2009

Portugal 1/3; Draw 10/3; Bosnia-Herzegovina 7/1

Almost all the pre-match build-up to this tie was up until Wednesday dominated but the club v country row between Real Madrid and Portugal over the fitness of Cristiano Ronaldo. Bosnia-Herzegovina breathed a huge sigh of relief when the world’s most expensive player was ruled out and now have a major chance of upsetting Carlos Queiroz’s side.

In truth though the key match up in this tie is likely to be how Portugal’s defence copes against Bosnia’s free-scoring attack. Miroslav Blazevic’s side possesses some attacking players who would grace the World Cup, proved by the 25 goals scored in 10 qualifiers. (Bosnia are 13/2 to keep a clean sheet.)

The attacking players in the Bosnia-Herzegovina side are now becoming household names which is another sign of their progression in recent months. Edin Dzeko (7/2 to score) was a major reason behind Wolfsburg’s Bundesliga title last season and the 23-year-old striker has a formidable scoring record at international level with 14 goals in just 21 appearances.

Alongside Dzeko, Blazevic will start Vedad Ibisevic (11/1 to score first), who but for a knee injury last season could have established himself as the hottest goalscorer in the Bundesliga ahead of Dzeko. The attacking talent in midfield also means that this Bosnia-Herzegovina side will create chances for the front two.

Zvjezdan Misimovic (12/1 to score & Bosnia win) was another major factor in Wolfsburg’s title challenge, providing the most ever assists in a Bundesliga season. The playmaker has continued this form into 2009/2010 and scored a cracking goal in the Champions League against Besiktas last week. Miralem Pjanic  (40/1 to score a brace) of Lyon is another to have impressed in Europe this season and Portugal have a number of players to keep an eye on.

The Bosnia defence does lack almost any real quality and if Portugal can keep it tight they will score the goals to take them to South Africa. Nani (15/8 to score) and Simao (9/4 to score & Spain win) have the creative qualities to make average opponents pay and Liedson (13/2 to score a brace) has shown in just four international appearances that he can score goals.

On paper this Portuguese side appear to have the right balance for this tie. Defensive quality and resilience provided by the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Bruno Alves and Pepe should see them through despite the hugely unimpressive reign of Carlos Queiroz so far.

But, Bosnia-Herzegovina, buoyed by the historical factors that weigh on all of their players should be hugely motivated. Miroslav Blazevic’s finest hour came in the 1998 World Cup when he led Croatia to third place and with the attacking talent now at his disposal the 74-year-old will fancy another crack in South Africa.

If Portugal don’t exploit the gaps in the Bosnia-Herzegovina defence in Lisbon on Saturday, they could be in for a rough ride in Zenica four days later.

101gg predicts: Portugal 2 – Bosnia-Herzegovina 1 (15/2)

Portugal 1/3; Draw 10/3; Bosnia-Herzegovina 7/1

Full match odds here.