June 21, 2014

CUIABA, Brazil (AP) Proclaimed an independent state in 1992, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been waiting more than two decades to appear at a World Cup.

When the country did finally make it to football's biggest stage, the team was eliminated from contention in barely a week.

Consecutive losses - 2-1 against Argentina in its opener and then 1-0 to Nigeria on Saturday - confirmed that the Bosnians will not advance from the group stage on their tournament debut.

''They are all depressed, disappointed, silent in the dressing room,'' Bosnia-Herzegovina coach Safet Susic said of his players. ''It's true, if our best players play at their best level, we can beat anybody. If they don't, it's difficult for us to win.''

They won't be departing with a whimper either, with star striker Edin Dzeko not holding back in his criticism of the match officials after they disallowed a goal for offside in the 21st minute against Nigeria. The score was 0-0 at the time and replays appeared to show Dzeko may have been onside.

Dzeko was asked what happened to Bosnia's campaign.

''The referee happened,'' he said. ''We are going home, we are sad because of that, but the referee should go home, too. Because he changed the result, he changed the game, and that's why we lost.

''The referee was shameful for this competition.''

There was more to Bosnia-Herzegovina's exit, though, than a contentious refereeing decision.

The Bosnians were unfortunate to run into Lionel Messi in their first game, with the Argentina maestro scoring a brilliant individual goal that proved to be the winner.

Still, Susic's squad can be proud that it took one of the tournament favorites all the way and that the team made its debut at the World Cup in a famous stadium like the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.

Many pundits said, based on the performance against Argentina, that Bosnia-Herzegovina could still advance beyond the group stage, but it was well below-par against Nigeria after a bright start in stifling conditions in Cuiaba.

After Peter Odemwingie's goal, heads dropped in the Bosnian team.

''They wanted to win probably that much more than us,'' Susic said about the Nigerians. ''Let's not delude ourselves, Nigeria are a very good team - we were not the favorites to win this game.''

Bosnia-Herzegovina's two best players, Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic, showed only glimpses of their best form in Brazil and they needed to be at the peak of the powers for the team to stand any chance of going far.

Dzeko, one of the English Premier League's best strikers last season at Manchester City, has one game left - against Iran on Wednesday - to claim a World Cup goal.

''We're disappointed for him. He lives and dies by his goals,'' Bosnia-Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begovic said. ''When he doesn't score, it's difficult.

''He tried, he worked really hard. We tried to give him as many chances as we could. I guess it wasn't working for the whole team going forward today.''

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