SARAJEVO: Edin Dzeko denied the Republic of Ireland a precious first leg victory as Bosnia & Herzegovina ensured a tense conclusion to their Euro 2016 play-off showdown.
However, Roma hitman Dzeko ensured that his team will head for Dublin on Monday evening level at 1-1 and with everything to play for.
Republic boss Martin O’Neill, who travelled to Bosnia without key players Shay Given, John O’Shea, Jonathan Walters and Shane Long through a combination of injury and suspension, had impressed the importance of both a clean sheet and an away goal on his players.
He very nearly left with both, although that would have been harsh on Bosnia, who dominated for long periods in a game which only really exploded into life at the end.
However, that away goal could yet prove priceless as Ireland attempt to secure their second successive passage to the European Championship finals to join England, Northern Ireland and Wales in France next summer.
O’Neill asked Ciaran Clark to plug the sizeable gap left by the injured and suspended John O’Shea, while Stephen Ward got the nod at left-back in a re-shaped defence on a night when what Ireland were able to do at the back was always likely to prove key to what their hopes of emerging with a positive result.
Ireland reached half-time intact, as so often in the past, a testament to their organisation and commitment, and with keeper Darren Randolph having made only one save of note, and that not particularly taxing.
However, they were forced to soak up pressure for almost the entire 45 minutes with lone striker Daryl Murphy isolated and playmaker Wes Hoolahan having little impact.
But in the meantime, full-back Ervin Zukanovic might have broken the deadlock when a 14th-minute Pjanic corner reached him unmarked eight yards out, but he failed to make meaningful contact.
Edin Visca was similarly wasteful after Seamus Coleman had intervened to cut out Dzeko’s driven 28th-minute cross but Zukanovic did prompt Randolph to make his first save four minutes later, with a firm header – but one which lacked the right direction.
The visitors mustered their first attempt of the game two minutes after the restart when skipper-for-the-night Glenn Whelan took aim from all of 35 yards, but even with visibility significantly reduced by descending mist, keeper Asmir Begovic was able to watch the ball sail high and wide.
But Visca was once again the most influential player, testing Clark and then Richard Keogh with teasing crosses with Ibisevic ready to pounce on both occasions.
Randolph had to be alert on the hour when, after a cross was not dealt with fully, the ball fell to midfielder Senad Lulic beyond the far post, and the keeper raced from his line to block.
The opening goal finally arrived with just eight minutes remaining, when Brady ran on to Edin Cocalic’s attempted clearance and cut inside central defender Toni Sunjic before blasting a shot into the bottom corner.
But Ireland’s joy was short-lived as Lulic combined with substitute Ognjen Vranjes just three minutes later to allow Dzeko to level.