Denied top spot in Group D by Samir Nasri's 78th-minute penalty equaliser in their final qualifier in Paris, Bosnia and Herzegovina are putting disappointment behind them and gearing up for a momentous UEFA EURO 2012 play-off against Portugal, the side that blocked their path to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with two 1-0 play-off wins two years ago.
As the tie gets under way in Zenica, coach Safet Sušić knows his team are outsiders but insists that Bosnia and Herzegovina have the wherewithal to cause their visitors problems on Friday. "Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo are the favourites yet we have our own qualities," said Sušić. "I don't want it to end 0-0. I have some problems in defence but we will find a solution."
Rearguard regulars Saša Papac and Boris Pandža are suspended, so an injury to Mensur Mujdža has left Sušić with real issues to resolve at the back. Nonetheless, he can count on Stoke City FC goalkeeper Asmir Begović and a forward pairing of Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević, who scored twice as his side warmed up with a 2-1 friendly win against FK Željezničar to mark the 90th anniversary of Džeko's old club.
The play-off could see a meeting of the second-highest scorers in the Liga and Premier League, with 12-goal Cristiano Ronaldo up against Džeko, who has ten goals this season. Džeko and Zvjezdan Misimović are both two strikes shy of Elvir Bolić's national record of 22, though the Manchester City FC man said: "
We would be satisfied even with a 1-0 win against Portugal, no matter who scores."
The task of marking Džeko at the Bilino Polje stadium will fall on Pepe, with the Real Madrid CF player well aware of the threat that the attacker, who scored four goals in ten qualification matches, can pose. "He is a very strong player," said Pepe. "He likes to feel the defender on his back and turn quickly to score. We, and me in particular, have to be prepared to mark Džeko."
Coach Paulo Bento knows what he is up against too: "Bosnia and Herzegovina have a quality team, more mature than in 2009, with players like Džeko, Misimović and [Miralem] Pjanić. They play with two systems: 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2.
We still have players that featured against them last time and that could be a massive help."
Like their hosts, Portugal missed out on direct qualification for the finals on the last day of qualifying, losing 2-1 in Denmark in Group H. Málaga CF defender Eliseu and PAOK FC forward Vieirinha have come in for the injured Sílvio Pereira and Danny since Bento named his initial selection, but Pepe – who was in Zenica for the 2010 play-offs – is still confident.
"We are going to play at a tough stadium but we have to be ready for that," the centre-back said. "We are coming with a spirit of humility yet we are sure we can go there and win."
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