Edin Dzeko’s 85th minute strike saved Bosnia-Herzegovina from a shock home defeat to Ireland in their Euro 2016 playoff in Zenica’s fog-covered Bilino Polje stadium.
Robbie Brady gave the visitors a shock lead on 82 minutes a – a goal that was seen by few as the weather conditions reached a farcical stage in the second half a – giving coach Martin O’Neill the away goal he so craved.
Ireland defended well as a unit on the night, but couldn’t hold out to the final whistle, with substitute Ognjen Vranjes delivering a fine assist to Roma hitman Dzeko, who scored his 45th international goal.
Injuries and suspension hampered Ireland’s build up with Shay Given, John O’Shea, Jon Walters, Shane Long and David Meyler absent, but O’Neill refused to focus on the absentees.
An inexperienced defence was built around West Ham’s Darren Randolph in goal, Derby’s Richard Keogh and Aston Villa’s Ciaran Clark in central defence and Burnley’s Stephen Ward at left back, while Ipswich Town’s Daryl Murphy started up front with Norwich City’s Wes Hoolahan tucked in behind.
Bosnia coach Mehmed Bazdarevic was without suspended Everton midfielder Muhamed Besic, but made just two changes to the side that won 3-2 in Cyprus in their final qualifier, with Mechelen’s central defender Edin Cocalic starting in midfield while Dzeko took his place up front.
O’Neill had highlighted the importance of an away goal in the build up to this game, something that may have influenced Bosnia’s defensively minded line-up that had surprised the locals.
However, after a scrappy first half, there was almost no sign of an Irish goal threat a – and equally little to trouble Randolph in the Ireland goal.
Edin Visca enjoyed the better of his right wing scrap with Robbie Brady, and delivered some tasty crosses, the first of which Miralem Pjanic fired wildly over the bar.
The Basaksehir winger got the better of Brady once more halfway through the half, whipping in a cross Ibisevic volleyed around the near post, and his threat saw Ward earn a yellow card a minute later after pulling the flyer back after he’d nutmegged Whelan on the wing.
Arguably the chance of the half fell to full back Ervin Zukanoivc, who really should have done better with a header when he found himself in miles of space ten yards from goal.
O’Neill had little to cheer apart from the performance of his makeshift defensive line, with Seamus Coleman, Keogh and Clark performing well, but Ward at left back was a constant weak point for the visitors.
A heavy fog descended on the stadium during the break, causing serious visibility issues, with one side of the pitch only barely visible from the other.
It didn’t hamper Visca, who once more got in behind Ward, but his cut-back was intercepted by Clark and Randolph collected safely.
Daryl Murphy had Ireland’s best chance when he got on the end of a Brady cross, but his header looped harmlessly over the bar.
As visibility continue to worsen, Randolph popped up with a vital save when he blocked Lulic’s shot after the winger pounced on a misplaced clearance.
Dzeko drew a foul from the ever eager James McClean, who had replaced Hoolahan on the hour, but set-piece specialist Pjanic failed to work his magic.
Then, to an almost eerie silence, Brady broke the deadlock. Racing shoulder to shoulder with Zukanovic, he cut inside the fullback and struck low and early past Begovic’s near post to stun the hosts.
But the lead lasted just two minutes, before Vranjes once more exploited Ireland’s weak left back position, nipping behind McClean and squaring for Dzeko to sidefoot home and leave Monday night’s game in Dublin finely poised.