(Reuters) - Former Yugoslavia forward Safet Susic had huge expectations to deal with in soccer-mad Bosnia when he took over at the Balkan nation in December 2009 and his penchant for attacking soccer was richly rewarded with a 2014 World Cup berth.
The 59-year-old coach, who scored 21 goals in 54 international appearances which included games in the 1982 and 1990 World Cups, succeeded the much-admired Miroslav Blazevic who steered Croatia to the semi-finals in the 1998 tournament and reached the 2010 playoffs with Bosnia.
A gifted forward with quick feet, superb skill and vision, Susic, as coach, instilled the same kind of philosophy in his players which prompted many of his former Yugoslavia team mates and a few rivals to heap praise on him.
“If you were to rank Susic with the all-time greats you would have to put him at least in the top 40,” said former West Germany striker and 1974 World Cup winner Gerd Mueller.
Macedonian Darko Pancev, who played alongside Susic for Yugoslavia in the 1990 World Cup, added: “For me, he is unsurpassable and the best Yugoslavia had. His crosses were unbelievable and would sometimes hit me without me even being aware of it. A wonderful player.”
Bosnia thrived under Susic in the 2014 World Cup qualifiers, scoring 30 goals in 10 games to win their group and 18 of those came from the lethal strike partnership of Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic.
While popular thanks to his uncanny sense of humor and affection for the players, Susic is not afraid to tackle his players as he proved when he blasted top scorer Dzeko for dissent after a 2-0 friendly defeat by Egypt in March.
With Dzeko complaining for being left on the pitch for 90 minutes and criticizing the omission of close friend Senijad Ibricic from the squad, Susic told a press conference that no one was bigger than the team and made it clear that the striker would have to earn his spot in the World Cup squad.
Like Dzeko, Susic received a hero’s welcome in Sarajevo when Bosnia secured their berth in a first major tournament as an independent nation but now has to shoulder growing appetites in the country.
So far, the coach has shown remarkable resolve and composure under pressure and it is these traits that make him the pillar of Bosnia’s hopes of reaching the knockout stages from a group including Argentina, Nigeria and Iran.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar and Mike Collett