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.
Robbie Brady had fired Ireland into an unlikely 82nd-minute lead at the fog-swathed Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica after the home side had dominated in front of a hugely partisan crowd.
However, Roma hitman Dzeko ensured that his team will head for Dublin on Monday night 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.
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.
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.
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.
The opening goal arrived with just eight minutes remaining, and against the run of play, when Brady ran on to Edin Cocalic’s clearance and cut inside central defender Toni Sunjic before blasting a shot into the bottom corner.
But Ireland’s joy was short-lived as Senad Lulic combined with substitute Ognjen Vranjes just three minutes later to allow Dzeko to level.
SCORERS: Bosnia-Herzegovina - Dzeko (85’); Repuplic of Ireland - Brady (82’)