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Friday 2 December 2016

'Home form is key for us in battle with Ireland' - Dzeko

Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko
Bosnia’s Edin Dzeko

And so, just as happened on the road to Euro 2012, Ireland head off to the old eastern bloc for the first leg of a play-off which could lead to the promised land.

But even with a month to go before the play-off clashes with Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ireland's players and fans should be under no illusions of getting a comfortable away win to make the home leg a formality and a night to celebrate, as happened with that 4-0 tanking of a very poor Estonia since in 2011.

Despite a leaky defence (they conceded 12 goals in 10 group games, the worst defensive record of any of the sides in the play-offs), Bosnia will give Ireland a much stiffer test than the overly-hospitable Estonians. And they also have a home record which already makes that November date in Zenica look daunting.

If it's any sort of guide to form, since Bosnia played Ireland in Dublin in a 2012 friendly, they've played 10 games at their preferred home venue, the 15,000 capacity Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica, 70km from Sarajevo.

Superb

And they've won seven of them, including a superb 2-0 dismissal of Wales, and in six of those 10 games they scored three or more goals. Apart from the last two games (they beat Andorra 3-0 as well as that Wales win) they struggle to keep clean sheets - but they can also score goals for fun.

Slovakia and Cyprus did win in Zenica recently and Belgium drew 1-1 there but Bosnia like playing in Zenica. They can get a bigger crowd in the capital (the old Olympic Stadium in Sarajevo can accommodate 35,000 punters and they pulled in 25,000 fans for a recent friendly against the USA) but the players like the tight surroundings of their current home.

And their star man, Edin Dzeko, has already planned for Bosnia to build a platform for qualification in the home game, the ex-Manchester City man aware that Ireland will be without men like John O'Shea, Jonathan Walters and possibly Shane Long for the first leg.

"It would be good if we can get a good result in Zenica ahead of the away leg, given that they will be missing a few important players," said Roma man Dzeko, who drew a blank when he played against Ireland in that 2012 friendly.

"I know most of the players from the Premier League, but they will also know us," he added, as former Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic has an insight into Stoke's Irish contingent of Shay Given, Marc Wilson, Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan.

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