He again resorted to open platitudes about how many of the Irish squad play in the Premier League, rather than actually naming one of them, and it was impossible not to think he wouldn’t have known too much about his likely marker Richard Keogh’s game from his performances in the Championship.
The Derby County centre-half, however, knows all about Dzeko. “He is a high calibre player,” Keogh said. “We know all about him from the Premier League with Manchester City. Like any professional, I want to play against the best. He’s right up there. From a personal point of view, I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Given Dzeko’s status as Bosnia’s highest goalscorer and how his strikes were such a huge factor in getting his country to the 2014 World Cup, that challenge could be the key to this game. Keogh is going to have to be at his sharpest and offer the kind of instinctive interceptions he did in the 1-0 win over Germany to disrupt a forward with a rare nose for goal.
The greater problem, of course, is Bosnia don’t just have Dzeko - who is now on loan at Roma. They also have his Serie A teammate Miralem Pjanic, and his free-flowing creativity is by far Bosnia’s greatest threat. Keogh is fully aware stifling that is going to be the foundation of any Irish success.
“We know the best chance of winning the game is keeping a clean sheet. As a back five with the goalie, knowing our job is important. If we can do that, with the great players in this team, who can produce some magic, we will hopefully score a few goals.”
Bosnia’s attack is not the only problem. There is also the intimidating nature of the atmosphere, in what Dzeko has described as a “special” venue in Zenica. As they’ve done to many sides there, Bosnia will hope all of that just overwhelms Ireland.
Another crucial factor for Ireland will be calming the game - and the crowd - down. But how? “They are at home so obviously they are going to try to make that advantage count,” Keogh says.
“We have a lot of experience in big games and the manager and Roy [Keane] have played in massive games as players and managers so we’ll draw on that. We just have to try to keep the crowd quiet and enjoy ourselves and do ourselves justice. Just be really strong about it. We’ve done our homework on them but it’s down to us to do ourselves and the country proud.”
It will also be down to Keogh to make well sure Dzeko remembers his name.
Four Zenica talking points
Darren Randolph was the man thrown in at the deep end when Given damaged his knee during last month’s 1-0 win over world champions Germany, and retained his place for the 2-1 defeat in Poland three days later. O’Neill’s options have been limited by the withdrawals of Rob Elliot and Keiren Westwood, leaving David Forde and Stephen Henderson to challenge Randolph.
Central defender O’Shea’s 108 senior caps say everything about how important he is to O’Neill’s team and his absence following a red card in Poland represents a sizeable blow. However, Richard Keogh, Marc Wilson and Ciaran Clark will all believe they can deputise ably and it seems certain two of the three will be asked to pair up at the heart of the Ireland rearguard in a bid to repel Edin Dzeko and his team-mates. Walters’ ban, robs the Republic of his energy and endeavour either in attack or as a makeshift midfielder. With Long also absent, Daryl Murphy is O’Neill’s only potential bettering ram.
The manager has made little secret of what he requires from a difficult trip to Bosnia. At the most basic level, his aim is to return to Dublin with something to play for in the second leg on Monday. In an ideal world, that would be a lead, but a clean sheet or an away goal and in the best case scenario, both - could prove invaluable.
Hoolahan is one of the most talented players in the Irish squad and his ability to thread a pass could be key. However, O’Neill is not convinced he can produce his best twice in four days and he faces a big decision over whether or not to keep his powder dry for the return leg at the Aviva Stadium amid a clamour for his inclusion.