Qualification for Euro 2020 kicked off this past weekend, and one of the marquee matches of Group J is set to take place on Tuesday afternoon as Bosnia and Herzegovina host Greece in a contest that could decide who finishes in one of the top two qualification spots.
Familiarity breeds contempt, and a bitter rivalry has formed between the two nations, with this being the third time in four cycles that the countries will go up against one another.
The games have always been full of excitement, and Tuesday promises to deliver yet another classic.
Bosnia were one of the biggest success stories during the debut of the Nations League, as they went unbeaten on the way to earning promotion to League A. They won their opening three games and clinched a first-place finish with a 0-0 draw in Austria.
Their defence lead the way, as Bosnia only conceded once in the four-game stretch. They carried that momentum into their first game of Euro 2020 qualifying, defeating Armenia 2-1 on Saturday in Sarajevo. It was a tight affair early on, but Bosnia made the crucial breakthrough at the half-hour mark, as a corner from Miralem Pjanic was flicked on by Rade Krunic into the back of the net.
The away side had a few chances to equalize, but Armenia were not clinical enough and were made to pay for their poor finishing with ten minutes to go.
Bosnia would hit on the counter, as a peach of a cross from Edin Visca picked out Deni Milosevic, who volleyed it past the Armenian keeper to double the advantage. Armenia pulled one back after Henrikh Mkhitaryan converted from the penalty spot, but Bosnia were able to hold on to secure the three points.
Greece had a tougher time in their Nations League campaign, finishing third in Group 2 of League C. They were as solid as always at home, only losing the final game to Estonia, but their problems on the road were the reason for their bottom half finish. After starting the campaign with a win in Estonia, they dropped their next two games away to Finland and Hungary.
It was far from the toughest group, and Greece were left disappointed in their failure to capitalize on the situation. They did rebound well in their start to Euro 2020 qualification, but they did only go against Liechtenstein, who are ranked 181st in the world.
The underdogs did well to survive the opening stretch, but Greece were able to grab a vital goal right before the end of the half through Konstantinos Fortounis. The away side managed to simply keep control of the contest, and put the game to bed after a scorching volley from Anastasios Donis.
It might have just been a two-goal win against one of the minnows of world football, but a win is a win no matter the circumstances and will give Greece a welcome confidence boost going into Saturday's match.
Stalemate meeting last time out
Both games ended in a draw during the last qualifying cycle, with Greece being the happier of the two sides on each occasion. Bosnia took the lead in the first contest in Greece after Pjanic converted from a free kick on the edge of the penalty area.
They were mere minutes away from picking up a huge away win, but the Greeks were able to snatch a late equalizer through Georgios Tzavellas, who rifled home a volley in stoppage time. Bosnia hosted the return fixture, and were in desperate need of a win after falling behind in the standings.
However, it would be a prototypical defensive masterclass from Greece, who held on for the full 90 minutes to keep a clean sheet and secure a crucial road point. Both contests were heated affairs, with the first game being memorable for a brawl that saw Edin Dzeko pull down the shorts of Sokratis Papastathopoulos before being sent off.
There is clear disdain between the two countries, which should lead to plenty of drama and action on Tuesday.
Bosnia: Sehic, Todorovic, Bicakcic, Zukanovic, Kolasinac, Pjanic, Besic, Krunic, Visca, Dzeko, Duljevic
Greece: Vlachodimos, Bakakis, Siovas, Sokratis, Koutris, Zeca, Fortounis, Samaris, Masouras, Donis, Bakasetas
What to watch for
Which defense will crack first?
Greece have always prided themselves on their defending, while Bosnia has gotten stronger and stronger at the back in recent times. It likely won’t be the prettiest game, as both teams will focus on staying compact and rigid defensively.
Greece are lead by Arsenal centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who is one of the most experienced defenders on the planet. He’ll be the man responsible for taking care of the backline and keeping everyone organized. Bosnia opts for a more “defending by committee” type of approach, as they don’t have a household name at the back.
Ervin Zukanovic has become the main man at the moment, with the 32-year-old carrying over his Serie A expertise to help lead a young back four. It will be a cagey affair, and the final result will likely be decided by whichever defence blinks first.
Who can be the match winner?
With the defensive abilities of both sides in mind, it will be up to one of the big name attackers for either country to make the difference on the day. Bosnia has the edge in that regard, as they’re lead by captain Edin Dzeko. A striker who has scored goals for whatever team he plays for, Dzeko made his landmark 100th appearance against Armenia.
He’s been the man Bosnia always turn to when need be, and the pressure will be on him to finish off any chances that come his way. Plenty of eyes will be on his compatriot Miralem Pjanic, who has become one of the worlds finest midfielders ever since joining Juventus.
A dead ball specialist, Pjanic can either whip in dangerous crosses or go directly for goal, as he’s prolific when it comes to scoring from free kicks. Anastasios Donis scored a screamer against Lichtenstein and is the striker in form for Greece.
He’s struggled for Stuttgart in the Bundesliga, but he’s ready to make the most of his chance at the international level after the injury to Mitroglou. Konstantinos Fortounis also scored on Saturday, and the hopes of Greek fans will rest heavy on his shoulder. Still playing for Olympiacos back home, Fortounis is at his most comfortable on the international stage. He’s come up big in the past when his country has needed him most, and he can turn any match on its head in a moments notice.
If either nation wants to pick up the full three points on the day, someone will have to take control of the contest, and it will likely be one of the star names on show.