Bosnia can build on positive debut
The opening match left Bosnia-Herzegovina defeated by favoured Argentina, but at the end of the day, the Dragons don't have many reasons to be disappointed with the result.
Measuring with Lionel Messi's Argentina was never going to be an easy task, and Bosnia showed positive signs that could be a boost for the rest of the tournament. At the same time, though, this match highlighted some of the old issues that Safet Susic has to work on if he wants to reach the round of 16.
For Bosnians, the clash with Argentina was their debut at a major tournament. Nerves were to be expected, but the opening minutes went beyond that. The result was, statistically speaking, the worst start in World Cup history. Sead Kolasinac conceded an own goal in the third minute -- the quickest such achievement in the tournament's existence.
For this Bosnia-Herzegovina squad, one considered to be moody, this easily could have been the end of the tournament. But the reaction that followed erased those fears and confirmed that this team has matured in the past three years.
Apart from that own goal, Bosnia-Herzegovina looked solid in the first half. The perplexity that Alejandro Sabella created in his squad by his tactical changes allowed Susic's team to establish itself in the middle of the park.
A good defensive setup, with holding midfielder Muhamed Besic tasked specifically with controlling Messi, neutralized the majority of Argentina's attacking nous. However, the aggressiveness and determination that Bosnia showed in defence failed to be replicated when in possession.
Argentina looked confused and exposed at the back. With a proper plan, the Bosnians had a chance to damage them. For that to occur, however, the Dragons needed much more from wingers Izet Hajrovic and Senad Lulic; the pair contributed little and failed to stretch the Argentine back line.
Still, Bosnia-Herzegovina created long-range chances and looked dangerous from set pieces, but when Sabella reverted to a 4-3-3 in the second half, the World Cup debutant's opportunities dried up. Argentina corrected their mistake at halftime, and Susic failed to react.
It was obvious that the opposition took control and found its rhythm. After 55 minutes, a creeping Bosnian transition slowed to a crawl, exposing Besic to Messi's magic. The changes that arrived were more cosmetic than anything and were never a real threat for the Argentines.
That said, the defensive shape in this system is much better than what was on display in qualifying. Besic's presence as a holding midfielder provides his side with much more organisation. And not to be underestimated, this result will yield considerably more confidence to the team and its people back home ahead of the Nigeria match on Saturday than they entered the Maracana with.
But Bosnia will have to learn from this loss before the crucial group matches against Iran and the Super Eagles. Susic needs to speed up his midfield, even if it means sacrificing a veteran like Zvjezdan Misimovic.
Miralem Pjanic once again confirmed that he is the most creative player for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the side must cater to his needs. Edin Dzeko was completely isolated -- not coincidentally considering his country's poor wide play -- against Argentina, and Susic will need to find ways to feed him the ball.
In their first World Cup match, Bosnia-Herzegovina left a good impression on the globe, displaying enough quality to reach the round of 16. Now they have to start believing in that and prove it in the matches that will decide the second team to escape Group F.
Saša Ibrulj is a Bosnian freelance journalist who splits his time between Mostar and Stockholm. He contributes to The Guardian, ESPN, The Blizzard, Josimar and others. You can follow him on Twitter @sasaibrulj.