Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Bosnia and Slovenia June 2015

Two Euro 2016 qualifying matches - in Zenica and Ljubljana.

Dzekoshank redemption.

12th June Bosnia-Herzegovina 3 Israel 1   Zenica   c. 12,000

I 'd travelled on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul to Sarajevo then a further hour or so on the bus to Zenica.

Even with just a short time in Sarajevo you realise this is a country of contrasts.
Girls in shorts - women in burkas and the gamut in-between.

My hotel was close to what was an old Austro-Hungarian era brick factory and the vicinity still has two tall chimneys preserved from that period.
Sarajevo is definitely a mix of old and new - an extravagantly tall Avaz tower also dominates the nearby skyline.

And you see the murals - a la Belfast.
As they say history casts a long shadow.

Meanwhile back in Zenica the fans gathered, early - a sign of a good atmosphere.
And so it was in a stadium with fans close to the pitch and plenty of intimidation for the visitors.

Who heard their team and anthem roundly booed and whistled.

Who knows if that was a factor in the Israeli performance but they looked undercooked.

Bosnia started strongly, went close with some half chances and usually were  the superior side.
The midfield of Lulic, Besic and Haris Medunjanin (with his sweet left foot) always seemed more dangerous than their counterparts.
Pjanic also looked a constant danger.

But Israel did take the lead albeit from a miskick from Dzeko that Ben Haim converted from close range.

That sparked a quick response from the home side with Visca getting the first of his double then Dzeko redeemed himself by coolly slotting home a penalty given for handball.
All that got the fans going in a breathless end to the first half.

The second period was more about consolidation and keeping Israel at arm's length.
Which was mostly achieved despite a few threatening crosses.

Visca added his second, and the clincher on 75 minutes, with a close range header after the Israeli goalie had parried a shot.
And Dzeko had time to clip one against the post before the whistle blew.

The outcome meant Bosnia were back into the race for the top three.

For me -  red wine as a nightcap.


14th June  Slovenia 2 England 3  Ljubljana  15,796 (c. 2,200 away)

Onwards via Zagreb to the Slovenian capital for another England away match.

Roy Hodgson’s men came to this Group E encounter with a perfect qualifying record and they maintained their 100% status with the help of two cracking left foot strikes by Jack Wilshere and a late winner from Wayne Rooney.

In an atmosphere without the intimidation of (say) Bosnia the visitors contrived to miss some decent chances - Sterling and Rooney being culpable.
Though those forwards did combine well at times, as for a while did the ‘trident’ of Henderson,Delph and Wilshere, without the necessary finish.

The shakeup came when Ilicic set Novakovic free and he curled in a low shot for the opener.
It was probably the wake up call England needed.

And they came out with more purpose in the second half.
Eventually, on 57 minutes, the ball broke to Wilshere and he rifled in the first of his double.

His even better second followed a great run by temporary right back Henderson and a flick by Lallana. An educated left foot did the rest.

It seemed then that England would stay in control.
But a move down the left and a fine cross found sub. Pecnik rising above Gibbs to head past Joe Hart for the equaliser.

For a few moments the crowd were very animated but the natural order was preserved when Rooney finally converted a chance and England could almost confirm those French hotel bookings.

But as always questions remain - usually very good in qualifying will England have the inherent strength in defence to overcome the top European teams ?
Because to win anything a team normally needs a solid base and as in recent times that is something far from guaranteed within Hodgson’s squad.

At the end I waited for the rain to ease before sharing a taxi back to the very pleasant centre of Ljubljana.
Meanwhile my compatriots boosted the local economy with conspicuous consumption.

more pictures at

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