Bosnia-Herzegovina’s footballers will make their World Cup debut in Brazil next month; knowing they have the chance to offer the world a fresh perspective on their country and in the process unite a nation behind their confident, goal scoring team.
In 1994, as Brazil lifted the World Cup in the USA, Bosnia-Herzegovina was striving for its very existence. Qualification for this summer’s World Cup comes just 22 years after the 1992 declaration of independence from Yugoslavia that sparked the Bosnian War that would go on until 1995 and claim the lives of as many as 100,000 people. Many of the squad making their way to Brazil, including Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begović and striker Vedad Ibišević of Stuttgart, grew up away from their homeland, their parents having emigrated to find safety.
Today, Bosnia –Herzegovina increasingly looks to take up its place on the world stage; it is a country which has found relative stability and peace with its neighbours. Efforts to reform and re-build the country’s infrastructure have been steady and the nation can look with some degree of optimism towards the future. Plans to achieve membership of the EU are a key target for the nation and it aims to attain NATO membership by 2015.
With a population of just 3.8m, Bosnia-Herzegovina will be the 2nd smallest country to reach this summer’s tournament after Uruguay. Better known to the world of sport for success in basketball and (thanks in part to the 1984 Winter Olympics hosted in Sarajevo) winter sports; the country’s most popular sport is football, and it is a real source of pride and some relief for followers of the national side to have qualified for this summer’s finals, having come so close to qualification for the last 2 major tournaments.
Whatever the result of their first game against two-time champions Argentina and four-time Ballon D’Or winner Lionel Messi, the Dragons have every chance of progressing from Group F and should they overcome Iran and the African Nations Cup holder Nigeria, they could go on to face France or Switzerland in the next round.
Progress to the second stage would represent an excellent achievement for coach Safet Sušić, a man who boasted an impressive goal scoring record for Yugoslavia prior to independence, and enjoyed much of his club football at Paris Saint-Germain. The Dragons qualified for the tournament in some style, topping their group and scoring 30 goals in the process. The importance of that scoring record outlined by the fact that level on points with Greece, they reached Brazil on goal-difference. Neutral fans can look forward to seeing an optimistic, free scoringside, with Sušić’s own international experience meaning there is tactical nous to back up the flair.
Bosnia-Hercegovina has a strong spine of talent running through the team. Fans of the Barclays Premier League will recognise Manchester City striker Edin Džeko, whose 10 goals in qualification were only bettered in Europe by Holland’s Robin van Persie. Stoke’s Begović will be protected by a defence with central defender and captain Emir Spahic, providing steely experience at its heart. A creative spark and opportunities for Džeko and Ibišević will be provided by Roma’s Miralem Pjanić, 23, a real hot-prospect, capable of the spectacular and thought to be a target for Manchester United. With a confident, expressive mind-set and status as debutant underdogs, Bosnia-Herzegovina may find themselves to be many football fans’ second team in Brazil.
Qualification for the World Cup itself may bring future benefits for the Dragons. Having now reached a major tournament, their prospects of being highly seeded for future qualification campaigns will be greatly improved. With UEFA’s plans to extend the European Championship in 2016 to 24 teams, Bosnia-Herzegovina has a chance to make back-to-back finals, after their previous attempts at qualification ended at the play-off stage.
Whatever the result in Brazil, Bosnia-Herzegovina have a chance to build a legacy and cement a footballing identity. In recent past, few could imagine Bosnians, Serbs and Croats supporting one Bosnia-Herzegovinian team; this may now be the start of a change.
How should Bosnians measure success at the 2014 World Cup?