Portugal belatedly secured their place at next summer's World Cup with an
impressive performance in Zenica.
After scraping a 1-0 win in Lisbon at the weekend with a laboured showing on
home turf, Carlos Queiroz's side upped their game to close out the qualifying
play-off and book a ticket to South Africa.
Queiroz had midfield enforcer Raul Meireles to thank as he scored the only goal
of the game as his team-mates missed several clear chances.
The home side had it all to do but their task was not easy. And the occasion
seemed to go to their heads as they stuttered from the outset and relied too
heavily on Wolfsburg hitman Edin Dzeko up front.
Portugal were well-drilled throughout, however, with Pepe leading the defence
impressively as a holding midfielder with Bruno Alves behind him.
Their efficient set-up reduced Bosnia-Herzegovina to only half chances and
suffocated attacks with Braga goalkeeper Eduardo having little to do.
In the 25th minute Bosnia-Herzegovina were forced onto the backfoot as Portugal
cleverly worked the ball forward with short passing. The move resulted in a
chance when Tiago and Meireles teamed up to force Kenan Hasagic into an
By this point Bosnia-Herzegovina were reduced to pumping the ball forward
aimlessly and only when Chelsea reserve right-back Paulo Ferreira failed to deal
with Dzeko's 43rd-minute cross did Portugal look to be in any sort of danger.
The start of the second half was not any better for the home side as Portugal
stifled their creative play before passing the ball forward.
The central midfield axis of Tiago and Meireles were key figures with Nani and
Simao either side of Liedson up front.
Eleven minutes into the half Meireles got on the end of a superb move. Tiago
found Nani on the left and with Liedson's dummy run fooling the defence, the
Porto midfielder got on the end of the Manchester United winger's cross to fire
The goal came as a huge relief to Nani, who minutes earlier wasted a one-on-one
opportunity when Hasagic saved.
It also served as a hammer blow to Bosnia-Herzegovina and any remaining wind
was taken out of their sails when Zlatan Muslimovic wasted a golden chance.
Portugal played with increased freedom from there on in. Goalscorer Meireles
had further chances in the 57th and 71st minutes while Edinho should have added
some well-deserved gloss to the scoreline in extra-time.
Dzeko - the only Bosnia-Herzegovina player who looked on form - created a
chance nine minutes from time only to fire wide.
Portugal held firm to ride out worthy winners, ending a very poor qualifying
campaign on a high with by far their best performance of the Queiroz era.
Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz could afford to breathe a sigh of relief after his team
completed a remarkable World Cup recovery by overcoming Bosnia on Wednesday to reach next year's finals.
"As I have always said, marathons only finish at the end, when the final whistle has gone," Queiroz told reporters. "It was a long journey from the beginning to here in this final stage, with some hiccups on the way, but always with the conviction and the certainty that we were moving in the right direction.
Midfielder Raul Meireles said: "Of course I am satisfied with the goal, but I think the
most important thing was the team and the attitude we showed on a very difficult field, the state of the pitch was terrible and our team was able to overcome that," said Queiroz.
"It's not always possible to play well, but we managed to win, we are in the World Cup and we are very happy about that. The celebrations on the pitch were great, but I think we
have time to celebrate even more."
Bosnia coach Miroslav Blazevic, who guided Croatia to the 1998 World Cup semi-finals, declined to answer whether a painful elimination was his swansong. "It could be, but swans sing their final song for a very long time," he told reporters.
"I am a demoralised old man at this point in time and I have failed to accomplish what I set out to do, but I don't want to make a hasty decision. On the other hand, I am also very proud of the team spirit we have built here and the great ride to the playoffs, where we
missed four key players after the first leg in Lisbon.
"It is never easy to chase the game against the likes of Portugal, but overturning a 1-0 deficit would not have been an impossible mission if we had been at full strength.