Bosnia Herzegovina - World Cup 2014 Team Profile
Ozren Podnar reports
Road to Brazil
The Bosnian "Dragons" played exceptionally well throughout the qualifiers except at home against Slovakia last September in Group G. After losing that fixture by 0-1 it was clear they would have to win their three remaining matches, including away to Slovakia and Lithuania, to qualify directly. This they did, clinching the top spot by beating Lithuania in Vilnius through a goal by Vedad Ibišević midway through the second half.
Bosnia - Herzegovina Kit 1
Bosnia - Herzegovina Kit 2
After many frustrated attempts, including consecutive defeats to Portugal in playoffs, Bosnia and Herzegovina have finally made it to the final stage of a big competition. Showing off their amazing offensive talents, the tea dropped just five out of thirty points and scored thirty goals, the fourth highest tally in the European qualifying zone.
Bosnia is the fourth ex-Yugoslav republic to have qualified for a major tournament as an independent state, joining Croatia, Slovenia and Serbia-Montenegro, the latter being dissolved and succeeded by Serbia in 2006. The newly independent Montenegro have been close in the last two campaigns, but saw their progress blocked by England on both occasions.
Many of their key players have come to Brazil in top form, such as the prolific attacking duo of Edin Džeko and Vedad Ibišević and the playmaker Miralem Pjanić, pulling the strings from midfield. The defense commanded by skipper Emir Spahić is perceived the weaker part of the team, but the back four held their own against Argentina and the inexperienced Muhamed Bešić did a marvellous job marking Lionel Messi.
The international press have hailed Bosnian qualification for the World Cup as a sign of normalization of the previously war-torn country, but this conclusion is highly controversial, if not outright erroneous. While it is true that weapons have been silent in Bosnia for the past 18 years, the deep ethnic and religious divisions that led to the war persist.
A superficial observer might be oblivious to the fact that the current Bosnian and Herzegovinian national team only formally represents the whole country. Even though all Bosnian footballers are eligible for the national team irrespective of their ethnicity, the World Cup squad features only one ethnic Serb (Ognjen Vranješ) and ethnic Croat (Toni Šunjić), respectively; everyone else is Bosnian Muslim (or Bosniak, as the new endonym reads).
The ethno-religious composition of fans faithfully reflects the composition of the team. There are very few supporters of Bosnia and Herzegovina outside of the Bosnian Muslim community.
When Bosnia beat Lithuania to secure a spot in Brazil, there were wild celebrations in the mostly Muslim cities of Zenica, Tuzla and Sarajevo, but few or no signs of joy in the Serbian regional capital of Banja Luka and the Croatian hotspot of Mostar.
Both ethnic Serbs and Croats see themselves as integral parts of the unified Serbian and Croatian nations, rather than "Bosnians", except as a purely geographical indicator. The soccer affiliations being an extension of the national identities, the ethnic Serbs and Croats overwhelmingly support Serbia and Croatia, respectively.
Ironically, in Croatia proper the support for the Bosnian team in Brazil is widespread. Legions of soccer fans in Zagreb or Split have been flooding the social networks with best wishes for their neighbours. A stark contrast to the sentiment displayed by the Bosnian Muslims six years ago when Croatia lost on penalties to Turkey in the 2008 Euro quarterfinals in Vienna.
The Muslims celebrated their Turkish allies' triumph so loudly and passionately that many Croats on either side of the border bitterly resented it.
Ideal starting eleven:
Begović - Bičakčić, Spahić, Kolašinac, Bešić - Pjanić, Misimović, Lulić, Hajrović - Džeko, Ibišević (Mujdža)
Key player: Edin Džeko
All-time Bosnian top scorer with 35 goals, the lanky striker is synonymous with success. In the past six seasons he has won a Bundesliga title with unfashionable Wolfsburg and two English Premier League titles with Manchester City. Add to this an FA Cup in 2011 and three Bosnian Player of the year awards and one realizes why everybody in Group F is rather scared of the 28-year old.
One to watch: Miralem Pjanić
Midfield maestro for both his country and Roma, Pjanić was born in Tuzla, but emigrated to Luxembourg as a child in 1992 after the start of the war in Bosnia. A playmaker with uncanny vision and skill, he started his professional career at 17 with the French side Metz, moving to powerhouse Lyon in 2008 and to Roma in 2011. At 24, he has already amassed 49 caps and eight goals for Bosnia.
Coach: Safet Sušić
A true legend of Bosnian and Yugoslav soccer, one of the greatest and the most skilful internationals the ex-Yugoslavia produced. Offensive midfielder of supreme dribbling and shooting ability, Sušić took part in two World Cups and a European Championship, scoring 21 goals in 54 appearances. Having spent most of his career with FK Sarajevo and Paris SG, he went into coaching and was named national team manager in 2009.
First World Cup
Drawn into one of the weaker groups, Bosnia should qualify for the second round at the expense of Nigeria and Iran.
2014 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka), Jasmin Fejzic (VFR Aalen)
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Toni Sunjic (Zorya Lugansk), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros)
Midfielders: Miralem Pjanic (Roma), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Anel Hadzic (Sturm), Tino Susic (Hajduk), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhour Renhe), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Avdija Vrsaljevic (Hajduk)
Strikers: Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB)