The rise of Bosnia's Muhamed Besic
Losing to Argentina in the opening match of the World Cup was never going to be considered a failure for Bosnia-Herzegovina. With their positive performance in a 2-1 defeat at the Maracana stadium on Sunday, the Dragons' team are still doing well and there is a state of euphoria back home. What's more, the Bosnians also promoted a new national hero in 21-year-old Muhamed Besic.
The young Ferencevaros defender, who occupied the vacant holding midfielder role on Safet Susic's team, got all the media attention after the first World Cup match in the history of the country. Throughout the game, Besic chose the simplest possible solutions -- often a clean short pass (he ended up with 98 percent passing accuracy, according to Whoscored.com) -- and left the impression of being a mature and experienced player, despite his age.
The nature of his role on this team made him look the most important player in neutralising most of the Argentinian attacking power, especially in the first half. Besic was often closest to Lionel Messi, winning the battle in the first 45 minutes, but eventually lapsing in the 65th, when the Argentina captain outran him -- not without Ermin Bicakcic's help, though -- and scored the winner. However, his display against Argentina created a sort of hysteria back home, where many came to the conclusion that the youngster locked Messi down. Luckily, Besic has both feet firmly on the ground.
"I don't want to talk about my individual performance," was his postmatch comment. "The team performed well, but now we have to focus on what is in front of us, and that is Nigeria."
The Argentina match was a small jubilee for him, being his 10th cap for the national team, but the fact is that this was his first start for Bosnia-Herzegovina in competitive matches. He was not a part of the team that qualified for the World Cup -- at least not a significant part; he watched three out of 10 matches from the bench.
Back in 2010, when he made his debut for his country, Besic was considered one of the best prospects in Bosnian football. Just five days after he made his first-team debut for Hamburg -- playing the last 10 minutes against Borussia in Dortmund -- the Berlin-born prodigy became the youngest player to represent Bosnia-Herzegovina. That November night in Bratislava, he was just 18 years, 68 days old.
However, things drastically changed in the next two years. His HSV career stretched to only three appearances in Bundesliga and an alleged conflict with Torsten Fink, the club's coach at the time, resulted in a suspension and saw him eventually shipped out to Hungarian side Ferencvaros on a free transfer. Susic is known for his scepticism toward the quality of the lesser leagues in Europe, rarely giving players from there a chance to prove themselves in the national team shirt. Therefore, Besic lost his place on the team and was demoted to the under-21s, where his indiscipline continued to haunt him.
However, the lack of a proper holding midfielder in the national team forced Susic to rethink, and he surprisingly included him on the World Cup squad. Eyebrows were raised when Susic emphasised: "Besic is the only Bosnian that can stop Messi" -- most notably because his versatility made it unclear what his best position was. In the Hungarian league he impressed, but even there he was primarily used as a right-back or a central defender, and the Bosnian public was sceptical.
That changed in the two friendlies against Ivory Coast and Mexico, where Besic was arguably the best Bosnian player on the pitch. And he continued his rapid rise with a performance on the biggest stage of all at the Maracana. Susic's problem in defensive midfield has now been solved.
The hardest match of the group for Bosnia-Herzegovina is over, so for Besic, even better things could come. If he manages to replicate his display against Argentina in the matches against Nigeria and Iran, this World Cup could easily launch his career to new heights.