Goal shy and out of practice
Northern Ireland host Bosnia in Belfast on Saturday afternoon in an historic first meeting between the pair. Both teams will consider it as steppin out into the unknown, but they have more in common than they think.
A familiar foe
For a start, both teams have fought against the odds and managed to qualify for a major internationally tournament in their recent histories. Bosnia qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and Northern Ireland made it to France for the Euros in 2016, benefitting both nations valuable competitive experience.
Goals don't come easy
But the comparisons don’t just end there. Both teams find it hard to score, and in turn make it hard for teams to score against them. In their last 6 games Northern Ireland have only managed 2 goals, and Bosnia in the same amount of games have netted just 4. Even stranger the majority of both teams’ goals came against South Korea, with Northern Ireland winning 2-1 and Bosnia winning 3-1 in their fixture.
The match odds are tight either way and it's a tough one to call
Goals don’t come easy, and they don’t come from just anywhere on the pitch either. Bosnia’s current squad registers only five players who have scored for their country. The majority of goals originate from stand out star players, captain and Roma main man Edin Dzeko, as well as Miralem Pjanic of Juventus. Likewise, striker Kyle Lafferty is the only standout goalscorer for the Irish. Hopefully Will Grigg can bring something to the show on his return.
The competitive edge
Gazing further back over the Green and White Army and their form during their last major phase of competitive football, on the back of their successful trip to France in the summer of 2016 would suggest they fare better when there is something at stake. They racked up 4 straight wins, before losing 3 straight after that. I wouldn’t write them off at all, especially against Bosnia, but it feels like they might have lost a little of their spark.
Northern Ireland last 6 matches
- Lost: Costa Rica (a) 0-3
- Draw: Panama (a) 0-0
- Won: South Korea (h) 2-1
- Draw: Switzerland (a) 0-0
- Lost: Switzerland (h) 0-1
- Lost: Norway (a) 0-1
Lack of competition
Although they’ve racked up a couple of tight 1-0 wins over the course of the year, and have played friendly matches against teams who made it to the World Cup, like their opponents Bosnia haven’t played a competitive game in nearly a year. Having to travel to Belfast for their first game won’t be an easy task. On top of that they’ve lost some vital experience in players who have since gone into international retirement, and they’ve had to make replacements that have a distinctive lack of experience.
Bosnia and Herzegovina last 6 matches
- Win: South Korea (a) 1-3
- Draw: Montenegro (h) 0-0
- Draw: Senegal (a) 0-0
- Win: Bulgaria (a) 0-1
- Lost: Mexico (a) 0-1
- Draw: USA (a) 0-0
The match odds are tight either way here and it’s a tough one to call. Northern Ireland can certainly rise to the occasion when there’s something at stake, not mention in front of a fiery Belfast home crowd. On the other hand, Bosnia have more explosive power considering players like Pjanic and Dzeko can produce moments of genius.
Nevertheless, the stats speak for themselves and I’m going to have to play it safe and go for a bet of under 2.5 goals being scored in the match. Neither team has produced many goals in recent memory and I foresee a tight and cagey game on Saturday afternoon. The bets odds are with Ladbrokes at 2/5.