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Who is the man planning to dash Ireland's Euro 2016 dreams and how did he rescue Bosnia's chances?

Mehmed Baždarević has turned his country’s fortunes around in the space of 12 months.

Baždarević on the touchline alongside Wales boss Chris Coleman.
Baždarević on the touchline alongside Wales boss Chris Coleman.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

Ben Blake reports from Bosnia-Herzegovina

AFTER DEFEATS TO Cyprus and Israel in the opening months of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Bosnia-Herzegovina appeared to be already out of the running with just two points from their first four matches.

They had come into Group B as top seeds on the back of their first ever appearance at the World Cup finals in 2014, but the shambolic start saw manager Safet Sušić sacked and replaced by Mehmed Baždarević this time last year.

As a player, the stylish midfielder had begun his club career with Željezničar Sarajevo and enjoyed a nine-year spell there — reaching the Uefa Cup semi-final in 1985 — and he would go on to sign for French club Sochaux before retiring in Switzerland.

At international level, Baždarević playing days coincided with the Bosnian War.

Featured prominently for Yugoslavia in the 1980s and appearing at Euro ‘84, he missed missed out the World Cup in 1990 through suspension, however, after spitting on a Turkish referee during a qualifier with Norway.

He began lining out for Bosnia-Herzegovina after it declared its independence in 1992, but they would have to wait another four years to be officially recognised by Uefa.

Baždarević captained the team in the country’s first ever competitive match, a World Cup qualifier against Greece in September 1996, which they lost 3-0.

International Soccer ... Bosnia Hercegovina v Croatia Baždarević the player Source: EMPICS Sport

During the early days, he honed his managerial skills in modest surroundings. He won promotion to Ligue 1 with French side Istres, before joining Tunisian outfit Étoile Sportive du Sahel. They reached the 2005 CAF Champions League final but went down to Egyptian heavyweights Al-Ahly.

Then there was a return to France with Grenoble and his former club Sochaux and a short-lived stint in Qatar before his national team came calling in November 2014.

“The situation is difficult and I think everyone is aware of that,” he said soon after taking over.

We need to create a good atmosphere within the national team to get back a winning mentality.”

Although it was helped by the fact they Bosnia faced minnows Andorra in his first game in charge, the improvement was immediate and there for all to see.

During his first 12 months in charge, they picked up five wins (including a 2-0 victory over Wales last month), one draw and a single defeat to finish just behind qualified pair Belgium and Wales and clinch a play-off place.

Baždarević insisted he didn’t fear any of the four unseeded teams in the run-up to the draw but said he hoped to avoid Slovenia as his friend Srečko Katanec is their coach.

Now he has got his wish, only Ireland stand in the way of their first European Championship final appearance.

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Ben Blake

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