Bosnia boss suffering selection headache

Injuries, suspensions and lack of squad depth mean coach Safet Susic faces tough choices over which players to field in Bosnia's Euro 2012 qualifier against Portugal.

Bosnia's defence will miss long-term casualty Mensur Mujdza with a broken metatarsal bone in his foot while Boris Pandza and Sasa Papac are suspended for the first leg in Zenica on Friday.

The makeshift back four likely to start against the Portuguese looked shaky in Tuesday's 2-1 warm-up win over local first division club Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, who created a hatful of chances.

"I knew very little before this game what team I would pick for the Portugal game and now I am none the wiser," Susic told Bosnian state television BHT1.

"It's not just the defence giving me a headache, it's also the midfield because we have a lot of attacking midfielders with an instinct to go forward.

"With a team structured like that, you have to score at least two or three goals to beat any opposition and that's not going to be easy against a team of Portugal's quality.

"We have two more training sessions to sort out these issues and we need to find some kind of a solution," said Susic.

Playmaker Miralem Pjanic, who has been in good form for his club Roma this season, was more confident than Susic.

"There is no doubt that Portugal are strong but we are also a high-quality team and we have to take the game to them rather than hide on the pitch and retreat.

"A goalless draw in the first leg would be a good result for us but we know we can score against anyone and I am optimistic that Portugal could be rattled by fervent home support for us in the cauldron of Bilino Polje stadium," said Pjanic.

SCINTILLATING FORM

Portugal, who beat Bosnia 2-0 on aggregate in a 2010 World Cup play-off, will hope for a repeat of their clinical performance on a bumpy pitch in the second leg in Zenica two years ago.

They will be boosted by the scintillating form of captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who rifled in his fourth hat-trick of the season for Real Madrid in last weekend's 7-1 thumping of Osasuna in the Spanish league.

Coach Paulo Bento struck a note of caution though, stressing that Bosnia had improved dramatically since their doubleheader in November 2009.

"There is a very wide gap between the two encounters, Bosnia have a quality team and are more mature, as is the case with Pjanic and [Manchester City striker Edin] Dzeko," said Bento.

"I predict a very balanced play-off and think each team has a 50 percent chance of qualifying.

"We will have to adapt to the stadium in Zenica and the pitch conditions so we might have to play in a different way than we usually do."

With the ramshackle ground holding barely 15,000 fans, Bosnians will be glued to their television sets as the former Yugoslav republic aims to qualify for its first major tournament as an independent nation.

Having gained independence after a bloody 1992-95 conflict, Bosnia has since been a dysfunctional union of the Moslem-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic but the national football team has stood out as one of the rare beacons of unity with all three ethnic groups included in the squad.

Bosnia's former coach Miroslav Blazevic, a Bosnian-born Croat who steered Croatia to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals before he took them to the 2010 World Cup play-offs, was confident Bosnia would go through to next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine.

"As subjective as I may sound, past experience tells me that Bosnia will advance," Blazevic said. "Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo but Dzeko has become a world-class player and this Bosnian side is much better than the one when I was in charge."

Teams (probable):

Bosnia: Asmir Begovic; Adnan Zahirovic, Emir Spahic, Muhamed Besic, Senad Lulic; Miralem Pjanic, Elvir Rahimic, Zvjezdan Misimovic, Haris Medunjanin; Vedad Ibisevic, Edin Dzeko.

Portugal: Rui Patricio; Joao Pereira, Bruno Alves, Fabio Coentrao, Rolando; Raul Meireles, Pepe, Joao Moutinho; Cristiano Ronaldo, Helder Postiga, Nani.


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