Having narrowly failed to advance to UEFA EURO 2012 automatically at the expense of France, Bosnia and Herzegovina have it all to do again if they are to reach next summer's finals after drawing Portugal in the play-offs.
Safet Sušić's side were 12 minutes away from securing the victory they needed at the Stade de France on Tuesday to top Group D before Samir Nasri converted a penalty for Les Bleus. It was a cruel blow for the Bosnians, who are still striving to reach a first final tournament since independence. They came closest in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualification, but lost in a play-off. Their conquerors on that occasion? Portugal.
Edin Džeko, the scorer of a superb opening goal in Paris, said of the draw: "We had no luck but we do have a chance for revenge. Any team that has Ronaldo in its ranks will be the favourites but we've shown in this qualifying campaign that we can cause headaches for the best teams.
We had no luck with the French, maybe the Portuguese can be our ticket to EURO 2012?"
Captain Emir Spahić admitted "our wish was to get the Czechs or the Irish" and coach Sušić had mixed emotions as he spoke to UEFA.com in Krakow. "This is the worst scenario – I wanted to avoid Portugal at any costs," he said. "The first game is also at home which is a disadvantage.
Portugal are the favourites but I have a team capable of playing, and competing, against any team in the world.
"We must forget about the France game as there's a new challenge ahead of us. We are still full of energy as we know many people across Europe will be supporting Bosnia. We're a small country but we can play great football. I really have some exceptional players in my squad so why not surprise the football world again? They have Cristiano Ronaldo, we have Edin Džeko."
The coach has been left with a defensive headache, however, as Saša Papac and Boris Pandža are suspended while Mensur Mujdža will sit out both legs because of a foot injury. "The suspensions and injuries will make our task even tougher but we won't give up," promised Sušić.
Portugal also missed out on automatic qualification for Poland and Ukraine this week, a 2-1 defeat in Denmark consigning them to the runners-up spot in Group H. Coach Paulo Bento will be taking nothing for granted in the play-off. "I don't like the favourites' tag," he told UEFA.com. "We know anything is possible and have a lot of respect for Bosnia, they've come very far and no doubt want to go further.
Let's look back to our games against them in the World Cup play-offs. We won both 1-0 but know we have to be really careful. One of the first things I'll do when I get home is to watch the France-Bosnia game – it will tell me a lot about our opponents. Our belief is still very strong and we're desperate to grab this chance. Everything is in our hands and we have enough quality to go through."
The play-off for South Africa was both nations' first such tie, and also their only meetings at senior level. The teams for each leg were:
First leg: 14/11/2009, Lisbon
Portugal 1-0 Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bruno Alves, 31)
Portugal: Eduardo*, Bruno Alves*, Paulo Ferreira, Duda, Ricardo Carvalho*, Liedson*, Deco (Tiago* 84), Simão (Hugo Almeida 88), Pepe*, Raul Meireles*, Nani* (Fábio Coentrão* 69).
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Kenan Hasagić*, Emir Spahić*, Samir Muratović (Miralem Pjanić* 87), Elvir Rahimić*, Sanel Jahić*, Zvjezdan Misimović* (Zlatan Muslimović* 81), Edin Džeko*, Safet Nadarević, Vedad Ibišević*, Sejad Salihović*, Senijad Ibričić*.
Second leg: 18/11/2009, Zenica
Bosnia and Herzegovina 0-1 Portugal (Raul Meireles, 56)
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Kenan Hasagić*, Boris Pandža*, Zlatan Bajramović (Džamal Berberović 83), Sanel Jahić*, Haris Medunjanin* (Zlatan Muslimović* 46), Senijad Ibričić*, Edin Džeko*, Safet Nadarević, Vedad Ibišević*, Sejad Salihović*, Miralem Pjanić*.
Portugal: Eduardo*, Bruno Alves*, Paulo Ferreira, Duda, Ricardo Carvalho*, Tiago*, Liedson* (Miguel Veloso 90+1), Simão (Deco 80), Pepe*, Raul Meireles*, Nani* (Edinho 73).
*players featured in UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying.
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