Northern Ireland 1-2 Bosnia and Herzegovina
There was heartbreak for Northern Ireland at Windsor Park today as Bosnia won a game dominated for long periods by the hosts in this Group B3 opener.
A goal in either half from Haris Duljevic and Elvis Saric were more than enough to win this game, but it was harsh on the Irish; a late Will Grigg goal was not much of a consolation. The Green and Whites are still smarting at the way they missed out on Russia 2018 and this result wonât have cheered them up much.
But it was another good watch for fans. The UEFA Nations League already looks like a big success with the top teams in Europe clearly relishing these games with a competitive edge.
Highlights of the game
Roared on by a passionate Windsor Park crowd, the Irish had much the better of the first half. The fans were on their feet in the very first minute shouting for a penalty: the Bosnian defence tried to play the ball out but George Saville took advantage. He was then appeared to be tripped in the box, but the ref was unmoved.
As Northern Ireland pressed, Niall McGinn beat Eldar Civic to the ball and released a shot which Bosnia goalkeeper Ibrahim Sehic pushed away. Saville was so close to turning in a ball from Conor McLaughlin, and then striker Kyle Lafferty took the ball off his skipper Steven Davis, who was in a good position to shoot.
Juventus midfielder Miralem Pjanic has been a pivotal figure for Bosnia, and as the visitors gradually came into the half he began to put himself about, earning a yellow card for a late tackle on Saville.
Ireland keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell was making his competitive debut for his country, and he was called into action after a quiet half-hour when Bosnia danger man Edin Dzeko fired straight at him from 12 yards.
If that was a warning, the Irish didnât heed it and Bosnia were ahead five minutes later. Pjanic released Dzeko with a superb ball down the left, and the Roma man crossed from the by-line; Peacock-Farrell hesitated and Haris Duljevic beat four defenders to the ball to slide it home.
The Irish will wonder how they went in 0-1 down at halftime.
And theyâll wonder how they stayed 0-1 down when McGinn put in a superb cross for Stuart Dallas, who had all the time and space he needed to head home. But instead he chose to volley down into the ground, and Sehic tipped the ball over.
Lafferty had a great chance to score moments later but he shot straight at the Bosnia stopper. But as the Green and Whites strained to draw level, a moment of disaster dealt a savage blow to their hopes.
Craig Cathcartâs headed back pass was woefully short, and in nipped Elvis Saric to beat Peacock-Farrell to the ball and slide it into the empty net.
Youâd expect that to knock the stuffing out of the Irish, but theyâre a tough lot and they refused to lie down. But as they pressed they almost went three down, when Bosnia broke and Duljevic curled a beauty of a shot which crashed back off the post.
Northern Ireland’s Will Grigg scores their first goal vs Bosnia
Michael OâNeillâs men finally got some reward, deep into injury time, when substitute Will Grigg fired home from a corner.
It was hard on the hosts but a great start to the campaign for Bosnia, and after next week’s UEFA Nations League 2018 results, weâll know just how great.
The pre-match us odds had the visitors as slight favourites at 2.61, and this was a classic smash-and-grab.
Ireland dominated the first half with 65 per cent possession and nine shots to two, but both sides had two shots on target. And the second half was more of the same with the shot count increasing to 26 to five. But the crucial statistic is the only one that matters in the end.
The hosts had failed to score in five from the last six games, so Griggâs late strike was a welcome relief at least. But itâs three successive home defeats for Northern Ireland for the first time since 1995.
And Bosnia boss Robert Prosinecki won his first game against Northern Ireland, having lost twice when managing Azerbaijan.
Â Whatâs next?
Northern Ireland’s Bailey Peacock-Farrell disheartened after the match vs Bosnia
Group B3 is going to be a competitive battle with only 16 places separating Austria, Northern Ireland and Bosnia in the FIFA rankings.
Bosnia are the lowest-ranked at 39, with Ireland at 27 and Austria 23. But UEFA Nations League 2018 odds on Bosnia and Herzegovina to get promotion to League A will have shortened after this result. Thereâs plenty of action to come, though, and Prosineckiâs team hosts Austria on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have a friendly with Israel before meeting Austria in October, when theyâll need a better conversion ratio than one in 26!
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