Everything is going according to plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina boss Safet Sušić. The fact that Friday's routine 4-1 home victory against Liechtenstein was secured by half-time enabled him to make a triple substitution in the second half to save on energy. Four goals in 12 minutes midway through the opening period in Zenica had entitled coach, players and fans to turn their attentions early to Tuesday's potentially historic match against Lithuania in Kaunas.
Bosnia and Herzegovina will qualify for the FIFA World Cup for the first time with a win at the Dariaus ir Girėno stadionas – or by equalling the result of Group G's second-placed team Greece, who host Liechtenstein the same night. The sides are level on 22 points but the ace in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian hand is a +17 advantage in goal-difference terms. The Dragons now have one final decisive step to take towards Brazil against opponents buoyed by their own 2-0 home success against Latvia in Friday's all-Baltic encounter.
Winning the group outright – thereby going directly to South America and avoiding the stress of the play-offs – is the only target for Sušić and his charges. Bosnia and Herzegovina are desperate to avoid a third successive play-off after finishing second in qualifying for both the 2010 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012, and proceeding to lose on each occasion to Portugal in the eliminators.
This time, in contrast, the Dragons have a golden opportunity to reach their first major championship by beating a Lithuania team lying fourth in the group, albeit one that will be keen to finish the campaign on a positive note. However, the home side may be surprised by the level of support for the visitors: it is estimated that 80% of the expected 10,000-odd crowd will be backing Edin Džeko and Co. Most of the travelling army will be coming from the nearby Scandinavian countries, and others from as far afield as the United States. For the Bosnian diaspora, World Cup qualification is the only topic of conversation.
For the players involved in the nation's history-making project, those who did not start on Friday trained on Sunday morning in Hrasnici. Sušić, with no injuries or bookings to report from the Liechtenstein game, was full of confidence as he told reporters: "We're going to win and secure a direct ticket to Brazil. We have the strength and the quality. We will attack, as against Liechtenstein, without calculation but with great caution in defence. We need to know that every lost ball can cost us dearly. However, we have our fans to help us succeed."
Having fallen at the last hurdle on the road to South Africa and then Poland and Ukraine, the Bosnian players are showing no signs of fear in a camp where spirits are at an all-time high. Midfielder Zvjezdan Misimović, the country's most-capped player who should make his 78th appearance in Kaunas, spoke for all when he said: "We are ready to give everything to get the three most important points in the history of our team. All that separates us from Brazil is 90 minutes. We know what's at stake. If we show what we can do, there is no doubt we will win in Lithuania."
The Dragons certainly have the strength, the desire and the quality to qualify, and with the help of their fans they may well realise their World Cup dream.
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