An Open Group

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (October 13th 2014)

Strange Times

Thereʼs no doubt about it – strange things are happening in Group B of the Euro2016 qualifiers. Fresh from appearing in their first ever World Cup finals Bosnia-Herzegovina appear to be nursing an enormous hang-over, despite the denials of their manager Safet Sušić. “[The] Boys want to go to European Championship and they are very much motivated”, Sušić said.

Voted Paris Saint-Germainʼs greatest ever player and also the best foreigner ever to have played in Ligue Un, Sušić has an uphill task already. A shock defeat to Cyprus has Bosnia-Herzegovina in a precarious position fifth out of six. Only rank outsiders Andorra have a worse record.

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Cyprus have already shocked Sušićʼs team 2-1 before losing by the same score to Israel. Group favourites Belgium routed Andorra. All three have a win under their belt and trail leaders Wales by a point. Not only is the group far more open than expected, but Sušić finds his team needing something from the toughest match – on paper at least – Belgium on Monday night.

Nevertheless, Sušić found a positive outlook. “I donʼt think the score [0-0] was bad for either team”, he said of the draw against Wales. “We are direct opponents for second place. We took a point and obviously there is the rematch. After our defeat against Cyprus that is the case, but in football you never know. Our aim is to be among the first two teams – whether [we come] first or second doesnʼt matter”.

Other Ideas

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Cyprusʼ newly appointed coach Pambos Christodoulou delivered the upset over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not surprisingly, he was having none of it. “I think Belgium is a very strong team and favourite for the first place of the group”, Christodoulou said. “The rest of the teams will fight for the second and third place. With the results we have seen so far I think all the teams have the right to dream – have the right to fight for the second or third place in the group”.

Christodoulou found an ally in Welsh manager Chris Coleman. “I think thatʼs a little bit presumptuous from Bosnia if Iʼm honest”, Coleman said. “This could be one of those groups where – well it is – Cyprus have beaten Bosnia; Israel have beaten Cyprus. I think maybe Belgium are the team thatʼs going to be top. Then itʼll be a scrap and I donʼt expect it just to be between us and Bosnia”.

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Despite his denials the results of Sušićʼs team suggest a World Cup hang-over. Coleman suggests it could worse. “Bosnia have got to go and beat Belgium now, because we could be going into after this game because if Bosnia donʼt beat Belgium, Bosnia could find themselves six points behind us, which with seven games to go, still a lot of points to play I know, but six points is a gap”, Coleman said before facing Cyprus on Monday night. “It hasnʼt happened yet, but itʼs a possibility”.

Group B could open further. Despite the state of the pitch Israel will expect to overcome Andorra. Bosnia-Herzegovina need a result, despite playing the favourites Belgium and a win for either Wales or Cyprus could open a gap not just to the winners of that match, but probably Israel too.

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I donʼt see it as clean cut as that [Sušićʼs opinion]”, Coleman said. “Cyprus will have something to say. Israel will have something to say. It wonʼt be just between us and Bosnia. I think thatʼs presumptuous”.

Belief

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Meanwhile, the Welsh camp believes in their abilities. “Well like youʼre saying Belgium will be the favourites, but why canʼt we be up there as well”? Asks Wayne Hennessey. “Like Iʼm saying, Iʼm sure Belgium will be looking at us now thinking, ʼWeʼll be a tough place to come toʼ”.

Hal Robson-Kanu is convinced that Wales have come of age. “I think in our last campaign we had Belgium again and away to Belgium we drew 1-1 and we showed that we can compete at that level”, he said. “Again teams like Bosnia, theyʼre top teams – been to World Cups and weʼre showing that weʼre ready to compete at that level now. I think weʼre going to take each game at a time and if we pick up enough points, then weʼll see what happens”.

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So what about Group B itself? “Obviously I think itʼs an open group”, Robson-Kanu said. “In international football anyone can beat anyone, but they [Bosnia-Herzegovina] obviously lost their first game. It was important that we continued our momentum today which we have done and now we look to Monday”.

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