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Wednesday September 11, 2013 MYT 6:07:33 AM
Wednesday September 11, 2013 MYT 6:08:25 AM
Bosnia's Miralem Pjanic celebrates after their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Slovakia in Zilina September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Radovan Stoklasa
ZILINA, Slovakia (Reuters) - Goals from debutants Ermin Bicakcic and Izet Hajrovic steered Bosnia to a 2-1 win over Slovakia in a rip-roaring World Cup Group G qualifier on Tuesday and kept them on course to reach their first major tournament as an independent nation.
The result left the Bosnians top of their section with 19 points from eight games and ahead of Greece, who beat Latvia 1-0 at home, on a vastly superior goal difference with two games left.
The Bosnians, who were eliminated in the 2010 World Cup playoffs by Portugal, are favourites to qualify directly for next year's tournament in Brazil as they are home to Lichtenstein and away to Lithuania in their last two games.
Tuesday's win also allowed Bosnia to gain revenge for a 1-0 home defeat by the Slovaks on Friday.
"The defeat in Zenica was a bad day and I feared we might have another one when they took the lead, but fortunately we kept our heads and showed a lot of heart in a fantastic atmosphere," Bosnia coach Safet Susic told the country's FACE television.
"We are confident that we can finish the job now but there will be no resting on laurels after this feat and we will have to take both Lichtenstein and Lithuania very seriously.
"I promised the lads would play their hearts out and they did. We deserved this win and I must thank our fans who came here in droves for never losing hope that we would turn it around."
Bosnia's Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko added: "We made it difficult for ourselves after losing the reverse fixture in Zenica and missed a load of chances here too before we finally found the back of the net and the win is all that matters now."
The visitors dominated proceedings from the start but watched in anguish as Slovakia keeper Jan Mucha pulled off one superb save after another before Marek Hamsik fired the hosts ahead with a crisp shot from 13 metres shortly before halftime.
Vladimir Weiss almost doubled Slovakia's lead straight after the interval when his sizzling low shot shaved the post and his miss signalled a turn in the tide which sent several thousand passionate Bosnian fans into raptures in the jam-packed Zilina stadium.
Left back Bicakcic equalised in the 69th minute, blasting the ball into the roof of the net from close range after centre back Emir Spahic headed a Zvjezdan Misimovic corner into his path as Bosnia threw men forward.
Livewire Hajrovic, who had made a senior debut for Switzerland in a friendly against Tunisia last November before opting to play for Bosnia, then struck a spectacular winner.
With Dzeko subdued in the closing stages thanks to some rugged defending by the Slovakians, Hajrovic kept Bosnia on course for a trip to Brazil when he left Mucha clutching air with a thunderbolt from 25 metres in the 78th minute.
"It was an instinctive reaction, I just let fly after finding a bit of space and I am delighted to have made such a wonderful contribution to this priceless win," said he 22-year old attacking midfielder.
"Now we must keep our feet on the ground and make no more slip-ups in order to set off to Brazil."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)
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