The inside track for second place in Group F is at stake as Bosnia-Herzegovina meets Nigeria Saturday at Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, Brazil.
With Argentina looking strong in first, Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia-Herzegovina are jostling for second and a spot in the Round of 16. Nigeria and Iran’s matchup ended in a draw as one of the more derided matches during this year’s World Cup due to its lack of offense. But it’s given both teams a leg up on Safet Susic’s side in goal differential.
During its 2-1 loss to Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina played Lionel Messi’s squad very tight throughout the match and bested them on quality opportunities with 11 shots on goal to five. Sadly for defender Sead Kolasinac his own goal hiccup in the first three minutes of play proved to be the difference.
Forward Vedad Ibisevic entered in the 69th minute, and 15 ticks later entered the record books as the first to score for Bosnia-Herzegovina in the World Cup with a left-footed strike inside the penalty area. It was the 29-year-old’s 56th appearance (the others under Yugoslavia) and 21st goal, while midfielder Senad Lulic earned the assist.
The historical duo may have have to link up again versus Nigeria, with central midfielder Sejad Salihovic out due to a hamstring injury and captain and defender Emir Spahic injuring his left shin during training. Spahic was cleared by the team doctor to play, but he could be sore ahead of kick-off.
Salihovic, who’s played for Bundesliga’s Hoffenheim for the last seven years and score 57 goals, will be missed not only for his scoring touch but also his abilities in free kick and set piece situations. Creativity in the attack will then fall to midfielder Miralem Pjanic and forward Edin Dzeko.
Against Argentina, all but two of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s shots were taken outside of the penalty area. Dzeko and Pjanic may have to take to the air to get past an experienced Nigerian back line. The hulking, 6-foot-4 Dzeko has 35 goals for his country.
Nigeria could eliminate Bosnia-Herzegovina and snap their World Cup winless streak at the same time. The Super Eagles haven’t felt the thrill of victory since 1998 in France, when they finished first in their group for a second straight time. In South Korea and South Africa, defender Joseph Yobo’s squad lost twice and picked up a draw to finish last in the group.
Yobo already owns the distinction as Nigeria’s most capped player with 98, but he’s never moved beyond the group stage. Manager Stephen Keshi opted for more attacking options and kept the 33-year-old on the sidelines until the 29th minute against Iran when Godfrey Oboabona injured his ankle.
Oboabona, 23, is expected sit out Saturday due to the knock, which likely means a start for Yobo.
Start Time: Saturday, 6 p.m.
TV Channel: ESPN
Live Online Stream: A live online stream is available at Watch ESPN here
Betting Odds: (bovada.lv)
Over/Under: 2.5 goals
Prediction: Bosnia-Herzegovina 2-1 Nigeria