Bosnia-Hercegovina keeper Asmir Begovic targets Euro 2012 place

By Phil CartwrightBBC Radio Stoke
France's Samir Nasri scores a penalty past Asmir Begovic in Bosnia's final group match
Samir Nasri scores a penalty past Asmir Begovic in Bosnia's final group match

In October, Bosnia-Hercegovina were just 12 minutes away from qualifying for their first major finals.

Needing a victory to top Group D and secure a place at Euro 2012, they led 1-0 in their final qualifier against France in Paris with a goal from Edin Dzeko.

Then they conceded a late penalty.

Dzeko's Manchester City team-mate Samir Nasri scored from 12 yards, the match ended 1-1, France qualified, and for the second consecutive tournament, Bosnia had to settle for second place in their group.

The draw for the play-offs two days later pitted Bosnia against familiar opponents - Portugal.

The two countries met at the same stage of qualification for the 2010 World Cup, with Portugal prevailing 2-0 on aggregate.

Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic is hopeful that things will be different two years on, although he concedes that his country are huge underdogs.

"We've probably got the toughest task," the 24-year-old, who has won seven caps for Bosnia, told BBC Radio Stoke.

"It's going to be a fantastic experience playing against those quality players and we're going to give it a go. We have nothing to lose.

"The whole country is behind us so we'll go in there fighting and hopefully we can win that test.

"The France game was a big disappointment and it left a lot of us devastated because we were so close. We're going to have to work very hard to get the same kind of opportunity."

Bosnia are very inexperienced as a football nation. They were only admitted to Fifa in 1996 and their current ranking of 21st in the world is the highest they have achieved in their brief history.

"It would mean everything for the country (to qualify for Euro 2012) because it's such a small country and it would be a humongous achievement," said Begovic, who previously played for Canada Under-20s and earned call-ups to their senior team without playing.

Stoke City and Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir Begovic
Begovic has started every Premier League game for Stoke this season

"We have some good players and I think we can do something, but obviously we'll need a good amount of luck and great performances all round to have a chance of going through."

Begovic and Dzeko are the only two Bosnia internationals currently playing in the Premier League, while experienced defender Sasa Papac has been a regular starter for Rangers in the SPL for several seasons.

The national squad is now littered with players plying their trade in the biggest domestic leagues in Europe, which Begovic believes can only be a good thing for the future of Bosnian football.

"There's more and more good players coming through the ranks and making the big moves to the bigger leagues, improving the profile of the whole country," added the former Portsmouth goalkeeper.

"It's good to see because it makes our team better. It's a good bunch of guys and hopefully we can have success in the future."