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"A Lot of Goals": A Bosnia Writer on U.S. Friendly

Graham Ruthven chats with Saša Ibrulj—a writer for the Guardian, Four Four Two, and World Soccer—who offered insight into Safet Sušic’s Bosnia side and what the Americans can expect on Wednesday.
BY Graham Ruthven Posted
August 12, 2013
2:25 PM
SARAJEVO, Bosnia—Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. team might be riding a crest of optimism and confidence right now but in Bosnia and Herzegovina they face a side also at the peak of its powers, winning nine of their last 10 games.

Bosnian football writer Saša Ibrulj spoke to American Soccer Now about his country’s so-called golden generation, its prospects of reaching the World Cup next year, and how dual-nationality has been used to its advantage (a pertinent point for American fans).

ASN: Bosnia and Herzegovina are top of its World Cup qualification group right now. Is this the best international team the country has ever had?
SI: Yes, as a matter of fact it is. We've reached the playoffs twice—losing both to Portugal (World Cup 2010; Euro 2012)—and we were very close in the last campaign for the European Championships (in the crucial match France converted a controversial penalty 12 minutes before the final whistle with the tie ending 1-1), but this is the best chance we’ve had to progress to our first major tournament. When it comes to the team I do think that this generation is most talented and compared with earlier generations, it has the best balance of quality which could be a key at the end. Before we had a superstars like Kodro, Salihamidzic, Bolic or Barbarez, but they rarely had proper support throughout the rest of the team.

ASN: How good a job is head coach Safet Sušic’s doing?
SI: Looking back at his coaching career, this is the biggest job he’s had. He is fully aware that success with this team would be a huge boost for his own future as well. He has a very talented generation of players at his disposal and so far he is doing a great job in finding a system that suits the players he has. He experimented a lot in 2010 with different tactical systems, but at the end I think he realized that this team is very close to the understanding of football that he had as a player and he simply lets them play that kind of football: attractive, creative, attacking, with a lot of improvisation, something that I like to brand as Yugoslav style. It can be dangerous, it can look a bit tactical naive, but it brings this team results and makes them attractive to the neutrals.

ASN: Susic almost took Bosnia and Herzegovina to Euro 2012, losing to Portugal in the playoffs. Has he improved the team since then? Have they developed as a result of that experience?
SI: Basically, it is the same team, the same generation, but two years, or better said two playoffs, older and they've matured. As I said in the previous question, they do enjoy attractive football but also know when to adapt themselves to the opponent, like in Greece this year. The problem the previous generation had was in so called "little" matches against weak opponents they lacked motivation. This generation has overcome that. They look mature, motivated but is still young and brave, which could be a perfect mixture.

ASN: Edin Dzeko is the biggest name on the team. Does he carry his club form and ability at Manchester City onto the international stage?
SI: I guess the fact that he is the best goalscorer in the history of the national team says enough. He is adored among the supporters, people love him, and he is the kind of player who enjoys being trusted. His self-esteem is huge, and he is one of the true powers that this team has.

ASN: There is a young core of players coming through the Bosnia and Herzegovina team. How bright is the future of soccer in the country?
SI: I have to say that this could be a topic for the long discussion. At the first sight, our roster looks brilliant—Pjanic, Begovic, Džeko, Lulic and many other important players can play for years and if we continue like this we have a bright future. But, on the other side, look at the names of their native clubs. Or countries. It is rare for players in this team to have started their professional careers in the country. Most of them have grown up in the exile and are basically the product of other countries. Almost a quarter of the population left during the war in the 1990s so I guess dual nationality is logical. It is a common sense that we have players that grew up in Germany, U.S., Canada, Luxembourg, or Switzerland as key figures now. The question is what will happen in 10 or 20 years from now—when the fourth or fifth generation of immigrants forget their roots, language, and the sense of patriotism for Bosnia? In the same time we have a domestic league of poor quality, terrible organization, and more financial problems than any else. Not to mention a horrible infrastructure. So, is the future really so bright? We’ll see.

ASN: What’s the perception of American soccer in the country? How well known are the American players in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
SI: The five top European leagues are followed closely in the country, so most of the players that are there are well known to Bosnians. Obviously, people are aware that the American game is getting better and that the U.S. is becoming a powerhouse that world football will have to take seriously in major tournaments. MLS, on the other hand is far from popular, apart from betting, I guess.

How do you expect Bosnia and Herzegovina to line up against the USA?
As I said, Sušic experimented a lot before but now he’s sticking with the plan that works. Begovic is the no. 1, back four will be led by captain Emir Spahic. I expect Zukanovic as the other central defender, but now that Bicakcic is called up, maybe he'll try him in partnership with Spahic. Mujdza will play at right back, while the left back position is always the question. We do not have a natural left back, so Sušic uses Salihovic or Lulic.

Now that Misimovic is back Pjanic probably goes on the right side of midfield, while Misimovic plays central. Rahimic is the only true defensive midfielder, and you have Ibiševi? and Džeko up front.

So, Begovic; Salihovic, Zukanovic, Spahic, Mujdža; Rahimic, Lulic, Misimovic, Pjanic; Ibiševic, Džeko; looks like a good bet.

Scoreline prediction?
(Laughs) Can I skip this one? I can see the match with a lot of goals, in any case.

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