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Monday 08 Apr 2024
Northern Ireland expecting a Bosnian backlash

Northern Ireland are preparing to face a backlash from Bosnia and Herzegovina in tomorrow’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2025 qualifier in Zenica.

The Bosnians lost 3-0 away to Portugal in the opening game of their Euro qualification campaign.

But they will be looking to make home advantage count when they come up against Northern Ireland at the Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Training Centre in Zenica at 3.30pm CET (2.30pm BST) tomorrow.

“I’m sure Bosnia will come out and give us a game,” said Northern Ireland captain Marissa Callaghan earlier today.

However, she also pointed out that by going on the attack the Bosnians may leave gaps which the girls in green and white can exploit.

Northern Ireland, whose manager Tanya Oxtoby has not been able to travel to Bosnia due to illness, are the third seeds in League B Group 3 behind group favourites Portugal and second seeds Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the FIFA/Coca-Cola world rankings the Bosnians are currently 63rd compared to tomorrow’s opponents in 46th, while the Portuguese are 21st on the global list.

However, Bosnia and Herzegovina finished second in their Nations League group (B4) back in the autumn, while Northern Ireland came third in their section and had to endure a play-off against Montenegro to stay in League B.

The Bosnians also faced a play-off, albeit a promotion play-off, although their attempt to reach League A was ruthlessly quashed by Sweden.

Bosnia were under the cosh for long spells in their B3 game against the Portuguese in Leiria at the weekend, but the Northern Ireland players expect them to be more attack minded in Zenica.

Northern Ireland will also be aiming to show their mettle in their second qualifier of the campaign after drawing 0-0 with Malta in Belfast on Friday night.

Callaghan admitted the players were disappointed with the result against the Maltese as they felt they played well enough to secure all three points.

She also said the players “can’t wait to get out there” and show what they can do against the Bosnians.

The team will be led by Stuart McLaren (pictured here with the players in Zenica this afternoon) who has been the main coach of the squad during the current international window.

McLaren was drafted in by Oxtoby to coach the team this month. The pair previously worked together when the Scottish/Australian coach was interim manager of the Scotland senior women’s team in 2021 and Oxtoby was his assistant.

In the run-up to the game against the Maltese a handful of Northern Ireland players and staff fell ill with the same virus that has kept Tanya Oxtoby at home.

In the panel for tomorrow’s Euro qualifier is striker Casey Howe, who missed Friday’s game at the National Stadium due to illness.

Goalkeeper Maddy Harvey-Clifford was initially not able to travel to Bosnia with the squad, however she is flying out to join them.

Cliftonville Ladies midfielder Louise McDaniel was called up to the panel over the weekend to replace Connie Scofield, who made her debut against Malta. Scofield has returned to her club, Women’s Championship side London City Lionesses, for treatment after picking up an injury against the Maltese.

Bosnia and Herzegovina are a young side but also have some experienced operators in their ranks.

Nineteen-year-old Inter Milan forward Maja Jelcic has scored four goals in 20 appearances for her country, while 21-year-old striker Sofija Krasjsumovic, who plays for Serbian side Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), has netted eight times in 19 games.

A couple of teenagers making waves are defenders Marija Milnkovic (19) and Gloria Slsikovic (18). Milnkovic also plays in Italy with Inter, while Slsikovic is with another famous Italian side, Juventus.

Only two players in the Bosnia squad have 50 caps or more. They are 28-year-old Melisa Hasanbegovic, who operates in defence for Portuguese side Braga, and fellow defender Amela Krso (32), who plays her club football with Sarajevo-based SFK 2000 in Bosnia.

Key components in the engine room are Marija Aleksic (26), with 35 caps, and Aida Hadzic (31), who has made 39 appearances for her country. The midfielders play in Turkey with Besiktas and Trabzonspor respectively.

The temperature in Zenica is expected to reach up to 30c during the game tomorrow.