Calling the crowd at Busch Stadium for Monday night’s international friendly a pro-Bosnia crowd doesn’t do justice to the term.
There were 30,397 fans on hand for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s match with Argentina, and there were 30,000 people rooting for the Bosnians. Every move they made produced roars from the crowd, from pregame introductions to the national anthem to strings of passes or goalie saves during the match. And Argentina heard maybe even louder boos for many of the things it did.
The fans, who stood up for the entire match — and lit flares late in the game that probably were not well received by stadium security — went home disappointed, however. Argentina showed its offense more than capable of producing goals even without superstar Lionel Messi and dominated the match, winning 2-0 behind two goals by Sergio Aguero in the first international friendly in St. Louis since 1997.
“It’s crazy,” said Vedad Ibisevic, the Bosnian forward who made the unlikely move from Roosevelt High to St. Louis University to professional soccer in Europe. “We made these people happy, especially people that live here. They’re far away from Bosnia, they miss their homeland. With the success we had, they’re all excited about it. It’s great to be back. It’s just too bad we didn’t get to win the game. I still think they had their fun.”
It looked like it. One group sitting in center field, behind the banner “Hardcore Bosnians On Tour,” not only stood for the entire game, but danced for much of it.
Though the crowd was the smallest for the three matches in St. Louis this year, it was still a respectable turnout for a chilly Monday in November with the temperature dipping into the 30s. After a crowd of 48,263 fans saw Manchester City and Chelsea meet in May and then 54,814 were at the Edward Jones Dome for a match between Real Madrid and Inter Milan, it meant about 130,000 people went to the three matches, which marked the return of high-level soccer to St. Louis for the first time in years. An MLS team is nowhere on the horizon for St. Louis, but the city showed it is willing to support one-off games of clubs and national teams touring America. (Though three in six months might be about the maximum.)
There was nothing at stake in the match, other than one of the last chances for the two coaches to look at their personnel in one place before setting their World Cup rosters next spring. The match did show that Bosnia-Herzegovina, which has qualified for the World Cup for the first time, still has a way to go. It may be ranked 16th in the world and holding its own against European sides, but when it steps out in the world, things are getting tougher. In the past two years, Bosnia-Herzegovina has lost to Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and the United States, giving it an 0-fer against the Americas.
“We still didn’t really beat the big teams,” Ibisevic said. “That’s our goal, to improve our game and be ready to beat teams like this.”
“You can see the difference between them and us is pretty big,” Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said. “I’m not that disappointed. My players played as well as they could.”
“We’ll take it as a good experience and get better soon,” said Bosnia-Herzegovina forward Edin Dzeko. “We want to compete with the world’s best and it’s going to take time.”
Argentina, meanwhile, showed that there is life without Messi. After playing a scoreless tie with Ecuador on Friday in its first match without the world’s premier player, it outshot Bosnia-Herzegovina 10-4 and had several strong scoring chances.
“There is more value in this victory because it is without (Messi),” said Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella. “Obviously, we prefer to have Messi always.
“It’s not important to look at the score, but the way the players played. It doesn’t mean the team is necessarily better than the other game, it just means we’re trying to find the right system. The more options you have the better.”
Aguero plays for Manchester City and was here in May for the Chelsea match. He enjoyed his time in St. Louis so much the first time that he tweeted after the game that he was “overwhelmed by the enthusiasm” and “thanks for all the support St Louis.”
He may have enjoyed this time even more. Forward Rodrigo Palacio, who played up front alongside Aguero, came in on Bosnia-Herzegovina goalie Asmir Begovic, and Begovic upended him in making the save. But he didn’t control the ball, which rolled on to Aguero, who scored from about 6 yards out.
Aguero scored again in the 66th minute, one-timing a perfectly placed pass from Maximiliano Rodriguez from 10 yards out that Begovic could do nothing about.
“He’s our greatest striker, one of the best in the world,” Sabella said, “playing for one of the best teams in the world. We are lucky he plays for us. We hope that he can keep at this level.”
Aguero, who also got a yellow card for a mean-spirited kick at a Bosnian defender, showed that he’s paid some attention to St. Louis.
“It was an honor to play tonight on the same field as the World Series was played on this year,” he said.
SOURCE: St. Louis Post Dispatch
PDF: [prettyfilelist type=”pdf” filestoshow=”2440,” hidefilter=”true” hidesort=”true” hidesearch=”true” filesPerPage=”3″]