Edin Dzeko marked his record-equalling 94th Bosnia-Herzegovina cap with an assist in his country’s 2-1 victory over Northern Ireland in their Nations League opener.
The 32-year-old Roma striker, who has now made as many international appearances as Emir Spahic, provided the cross that Haris Duljevic turned home nine minutes before the break.
Northern Ireland goalkeeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was then involved in a second-half mix up with Watford defender Craig Cathcart on his first international start, which Elvis Saric capitalised on to add a second in the 64th minute.
Will Grigg grabbed a stoppage-time consolation for the hosts but it was not enough to deny ex-Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder Robert Prosinecki a victory in his first competitive game as Bosnia-Herzegovina’s coach.
— Northern Ireland (@NorthernIreland) September 8, 2018
Ten months after a controversial penalty in a play-off against Switzerland at Windsor Park ultimately cost them a World Cup place, Northern Ireland were denied a spot-kick of their own inside 40 seconds when Ervin Zukanovic appeared to trip George Saville.
That came during a bright Northern Irish start which ended with Duljevic ghosting past two defenders to convert Dzeko’s left-wing cross.
Northern Ireland continued to push after the break, with Ibrahim Sehic denying Stuart Dallas and then making a point-blank save from Kyle Lafferty.
Despite the hosts’ pressure it was Prosinecki’s side who grabbed the next goal when Cathcart’s header back to Peacock-Farrell failed to reach its intended target before Saric nipped in and made it 2-0.
Grigg’s neat finish halved the deficit in the 93rd minute but when presented with a chance to snatch a draw the substitute fluffed his lines, leaving Michael O’Neill’s side to rue their wasted opportunities.
What it means: Prosinecki up and running
Bosnia-Herzegovina have only ever reached one major tournament in their entire history, but with players like Dzeko and Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic in their squad, they are hopeful they can reach Euro 2020. Prosinecki was in charge of an Azerbaijan team that lost twice to Northern Ireland in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, but he exacted a modicum of revenge.
Pat on the back: Duljevic the difference maker
Duljevic had never scored for his country before arriving at Windsor Park but he produced a clever run and finish for the first goal. And he nearly scored a second late on too, only to be denied by the woodwork.
Boot up the backside: Cathcart culpable
Northern Ireland defender Cathcart has been part of a strong start to the season for club side Watford, yet he had an afternoon to forget. He should have dealt with Dzeko’s near-post cross for the Bosnians’ first goal then let Saric in with a weak header back to his keeper.
Key Opta Facts
4 – Northern Ireland have conceded a goal in four consecutive home games in all competitions for the first time since March 2013 (7 games). Leaky.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 8, 2018
– This was just the fifth competitive home defeat that Northern Ireland have suffered under Michael O’Neill, following losses to Israel and Portugal in 2013 and Germany and Switzerland in 2017.
– Since a run of five consecutive victories between March and September 2017, Northern Ireland have won just one of their last eight games (D2 L5).
– Bosnia and Herzegovina have won back-to-back games in all competitions for the first time since March 2017, having won 3-1 against South Korea in their previous outing.
– Northern Ireland have lost three of their last four home games (W1), as many as they had in their previous 21 on home soil (W12 D6).
– Despite losing the fixture, Northern Ireland had 26 shots (inc. blocks) compared to just five for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Indeed, the away side scored with two of their three shots on target in the game.
Northern Ireland face Israel in a friendly in Belfast on Tuesday while Bosnia-Herzegovina meet Austria, the other team in their Nations League group, at home on the same day.
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