By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (June 15th 2014)
A Date with History
Bosnia-Herzegovina couldnʼt have had a tougher introduction to the grandest stage of world football. After the trauma of the rebirth of their country in the war that saw the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, football offers a unifying force, especially now. They topped their group with Manchester Cityʼs Edin Džeko playing a starring role. While this team are viewed as heroes in their country Zlatan Ibrahimović is seen as a traitor for choosing Sweden over his Bosnian origins.
Had the mercurial Ibrahimović made a different choice he would have had the chance to settle scores in a different context with former Barçelona team-mate Lionel Messi and his supremely talented Argentinian colleagues. It is a baptism most new-comers to the World Cup could do without. However, they could not be in better hands. They are currently managed by their greatest ever player – also deemed the best ever player Paris Saint-Germain ever had – Safet Sušić, an attacking midfielder of rare ability.
They couldnʼt have had a much worse start, conceding the fastest goal in the tournament so far, as Messiʼs free-kick was headed on by Marcos Rojo after three minutes. It hit the unfortunate defender Sead Kolašinac and deflected off him past Asmir Begović. Since conceding the early goal they held their own. Ten minutes later Sergio Romero was forced into action to deny Izet Harjović when the Bosnian winger beat the off-side trap.
Messi has looked a shadow of the player he is for his club, but his form for Argentina has always been dire at World Cups. He has only scored once in 31 efforts and that was eight years ago in the 6-0 rout of Serbia and Montenegro and that was the sixth when the result was not in doubt.
With chances at a premium Javier Mascherano decided that it was worth taking a pot shot from 30 yards out, but Begović wonʼt be beaten from that distance, especially when itʼs hit straight at him. With less than five minutes of the first half remaining Lazioʼs Senad Lulićʼs header was tipped past the post by Romero. Argentina led, but they barely deserved it.
Cometh the Men
On the hour Messi was gifted possession. He released Sergio Agüero on the right. Agüeroʼs pass for Gonazalo Higuaín was too close to Begović who smothered it. Five minutes earlier Agüero wasted a golden opportunity shooting well over the bar. After a poor night by his high standards Messi reignited Argentina with an excellent finish worthy of the move that created the opportunity.
A one-two with Higuaín carved the Bosnian defence apart after 66 minutes. Messi cut inside and shot from the edge of the area, scoring off Begovićʼs right-hand post. Stoke Cityʼs keeper had no chance – Messi has arrived at the Maracanã and Argentina grow in confidence. Agüero went close again before Mascheranoʼs interception released Messi who ran at the heart of the Bosnian defence before finding Agüero, whose cross was cleared by Emir Spahić at the expense of a corner.
VfB Stuttgartʼs striker Vedad Ibišević wrote his name large in the history of Bosnian sport. He scored his countryʼs first goal in a major finals after 85 minutes. Lulić rampaged down the left flank before a magnificent through ball found Ibišević. Taking nothing away from the Bosnian striker Romero will be disappointed with his effort – it went in off his leg. Argentina held on to win 2-1.