Bosnia and Herzegovina sit atop Group G, their 16 points giving them a three point lead over the closest challenger, Greece. Bosnia have yet to lose a match, with their one draw coming against the aforementioned Greece. But in the reverse fixture, Bosnia came out on top, 3-1, and demolished Latvia 5-0 last time out. Having scored 23 goals and conceded just three in six matches played, it seems that Bosnia, recognized by FIFA as an independent footballing nation for less than 20 years, are likely on their way to their first World Cup.
Slovakia, meanwhile, hasn't been quite so successful. They were one of the surprises in South Africa, their first World Cup as an independent nation, making it out of the group stage with a surprising win over Italy. It wasn't as though the 2010 qualification process was much easier, with Slovakia's group including Slovenia, Poland, and rivals Czech Republic. So why are the Slovaks faltering now?
One of the issues may be a tendency toward cautious football. The Slovaks have won just twice, both times at home, yet barely managed to increase their goal difference despite playing Latvia and Liechtenstein. Ján Kozák, appointed prior to last round's 1-1 home draw with Liechtenstein, seems unlikely to break the mold. It's also of little help that Slovakia have rather unproductive forwards, with Stanislav Šesták, their high scorer at 12 international goals, having scored none this qualifying round. Midfielder Marek Sapara, who's scored three in six matches, wasn't called up for this round, possibly due to lack of fitness as he's currently without a club.
You'd think, though, that Slovakia could depend on Marek Hamšík to orchestrate the attack. The midfielder has been immense for Napoli this (admittedly short) season, having already scored four goals in two matches, and creating two more. Yet talk to any Slovakia supporter and they will dismiss Hamšík, speaking of his unwillingness to step up and play his best for the repre. If Slovakia want a result on Friday, it will almost certainly have to come from other means.
Bosnia, on the other hand, have no such shyness in front of goal. Edin Džeko has scored the most goals thus far in UEFA qualifying, with eight, while Vedad Ibišević comes in second with six. Džeko is now a regular starter at Manchester City and scored twice in the friendly against the United States, while Ibišević netted a hat trick to help Stuttgart beat Hoffenheim 6-2 last week. It's difficult to see either of these guys slowing down. And with Asmir Begović looking immense in goal for Stoke City, it's also highly unlikely that Bosnia will start conceding any time soon.
Match Date/Time: Friday, September 6 at 8:15 p.m. local, 2:15 p.m. ET
Venue: Stadion Bilino Polje, Zenica, BiH