This match was the group decider. France needed a win to secure their passage to the finals without the detour via the play-off. They could stumble at the last hurdle, provided Bosnia-Herzegovina won this match. And this is where this team from the former Yugoslavia is so remarkable. In a group with Romania, Albania and Belorussia, they have come out in the second spot and still challenged France, right up to the last game. Those who made the draw for this group should be congratulated for scripting a thrilling contest until the final whistle tonight.
Alas, it was not really a thriller but a nervous occasion for France. The game started and it could have been all over after six minutes or so when Nasri blocked a shot and rescued France’s chances if not hopes of progressing. The first half however, saw Bosnia dominating the match easily as Les Bleues could not string a fluid passing game together that included more than two or three passes. What a contrast Bosnia were. Confidently they pressed France back into their own as soon as they got the ball, which was rather often as France lost the ball all too frequently when moving forward. The Bosnian defence, i.e. nine men behind the ball, only Dzeko was allowed to stay up front near the half way line sat back and snapped whenever they saw a weakness in their opponent’s game.
The game was almost turned on its head when Remy scored but the referee correctly denied the goal for an offside position. It was all nerves for France for the rest of the first half. Yet, they had their moments when the full backs overlapped and crossed, only to be denied by Hasagic in the Bosnian goal.
At this point in the match, the crowd started La Ola, a bit premature to be honest, as there were no reasons to cheer yet and to which the 15000 Bosnians in the ground made themselves heard and at times appeared to be louder than the French spectators.
Just as half time was approaching, Bosnia commanded the game from one end to the other and the pressure paid off. Six minutes from time they won a corner, which brought nothing except that they settled in the French half. Was it nerves or just a mishap however, M’vila lost the ball, Papac reacted quickly and played in Dzeko at the edge of the box on the right hand side. He shook off his marker Rami and curled a shot past Hugo Lloris in goal and into the far corner. What a goal! The insecurity among the French players was now palpable.
The players retreated to the dressing rooms amid whistles from the crowd.
The second half started as the first finished: France were running around like headless chickens while Bosnia controlled large parts of the pitch. Slowly though they started to free themselves form the relentless Bosnian pressing. This was because Menez appeared to have woken up and delighted the crowd with his dribblings and quick passes. Only occasionally now did the visitors manage to release some of the pressure while France pressed for the goal. At one point it looked as though this could be one of those nights when the keeper simply can’t be beaten. Particularly in the 70th minute when Hasagic cleared a Nasri freekick superbly for a corner.
The pressure was mounting and even Dzeko, the only marksman upfront was found in his own box to do some defending. And then it happened; it had to happen. Nasri got the ball on the left edge of the box near the touch line and fell after the slightest of touches from Spahic. Without hesitating the referee pointed to the spot. The fouled himself cooly converted, sending the keeper the wrong way.
The goal saw France suddenly alive again and it became one-way-football but a second goal would have been flattering for them, while Bosnia had exhausted themselves and focussed on defending. The late substitute Gameiro had two piercing runs ruled out for offside, on the other side Bosnia had a free kick missing by just a yard. The result was fair and it helped both teams. France qualified directly for the EURO 2012 while Bosnia have to go through the play-offs. Whom they are going to meet will be decided on Friday.
It was not a particularly great game, rahter both teams knew what was at stake, France felt the impact of that more than Bosnia and appeared to be paralysed for the first half. They needed a goalscorer up front and the absence of Karim Benzema was felt as Lo