Judging by the two matches that Bosnia and Herzegovina played on their short tour of the U.S., Safet Susic has found a recipe for his first World cup as a coach. The Dragons defeated a weakened Ivory Coast 2-1 and Mexico 1-0, neutralising the negative effect those previous two losses in friendlies against Argentina and Egypt (both 2-0 losses) had on the squad. The biggest -- and most probably the key -- change was the system; after years of pushing 4-4-2 with the diamond in the middle, Susic opted for 4-2-3-1, with Edin Dzeko being a lone striker.
It was not the first time Susic experimented with such a system. Arguably the best 45 minutes that the team played under his reign was the first half at the Stade de France in 2011, when France denied Bosnia and Herzegovina a place at Euro 2012 with late and controversial penalty. In this match, as well as in the next two against Portugal in the playoffs, Dzeko was the only man up front, with Vedad Ibisevic being his back up from the bench.
In the meantime, the structure of the qualifying group allowed Susic to switch to 4-4-2, the system that gave much more freedom to Ibisevic. Dzeko was the main target for the opponent's defenders and Ibisevic knew how to exploit gaps that emerged. In the next 19 matches - including all 10 in the qualifiers -- Ibisevic was paired with Dzeko, combining to score 25 goals, of which 12 were netted by Ibisevic.
Ibisevic's strike was, at the end, the decisive one and it came after Dzeko's assist. In the last match Bosnia and Herzegovina played in the qualifiers, against Lithuania in Kaunas, the Dragons struggled until the 68th minute, when Ibisevic converted a superb Dzeko's pass from the left side and secured Bosnians their historic first appearance at the major tournament as an independent nation.
"I can't imagine playing without one of them," Susic has said on more than one occassion. "Even if I would have to change something, I would still use them both, maybe just move Vedad to the right".
But the things have changed. For months Ibisevic was a national hero, and probably will always be, but in the end, Susic was aware that he'd have to be the one to lose his place in the side.
After a solid first part of the Bundesliga season with his club Stuttgart, when he scored nine goals, Ibisevic's form went downhill in 2014. He was suspended for a month-and-a-half after a sending off against Augsburg in February. Poor performances following his return saw him lose his place in the starting XI and he has failed to score since then, with his goal against Bayern Munich in January being his only strike in 2014.
In the same time, the national team's performances were fading. Bosnia and Herzegovina did win the most important matches -- the competitive ones -- but they looked terrible against better opposition. With Dzeko and Ibisevic as a pair, Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to beat any of Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, the U.S. or Argentina, stumbling against average teams such as Slovakia or Egypt as well. Their gameplan seemed figured out and the Bosnians struggled to impose themselves in the middle and take the control of the ball, the main aspect their game is built on.
Performances in these matches, especially the one against Egypt in February, signalled that Susic needed to make a significant change. Ibisevic was left on the bench against both Ivory Coast and Mexico, making for an additional man in the midfield that the Bosnians desperately needed.
That all said, Ibisevic's eventual contribution to Bosnia and Herzegovina's World cup qualifying campaign should not be overlooked. A fine professional, Ibisevic will patiently wait his chance, one that will surely come in the tournament.
For the first time in Susic's era, Bosnia and Herzegovina have a Plan B. If things are going wrong, Susic will turn to his proven hero Ibisevic.