Bosnia on cusp of World Cup qualification
Solid result against Lithuania last hurdle on road to Rio
Bosnia fans cheer during their side’s victory in the World Cup qualification match against Liechtenstein in Zenica last Friday. Photograph: Reuters
Ethnic divisions will be put aside tomorrow as the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina unite behind their soccer team’s attempt to seal a place in next year’s World Cup finals.
After several narrow misses, Bosnia can reach their first major tournament as an independent nation with a good result in their final qualifier in Lithuania.
Some 4,000 fans are expected to make the trip to Kaunas for the Group G game and a big fan zone is being set up in Sarajevo where the players can celebrate with their supporters if they return from Lithuania with a guaranteed place in next year’s 32-nation tournament in Brazil.
To do that, the Bosnians must preserve their vastly superior goal difference over Greece at the top of the group, and match the outcome of the Greeks’ game against bottom side Liechtenstein. Both the leading teams have 22 points but Bosnia have a goal difference of 23 while Greece have scored six more goals than they have let in.
Forged in a bloody 1992-95 conflict which tore apart the former Yugoslavia, Bosnia is still marred by ethnic divisions, political instability and economic hardship.
“We have already seen that the national team has unified the people and that they don’t care about ethnicity because they are proud of being Bosnians and Herzegovinians,” said Mela Softic, a 29-year-old ethnic Muslim manager from Sarajevo. “The success of the national team may be a unifying factor and I am already thinking where to get money to travel to Brazil next year.”
The team also have the support of the country’s ethnic Serbs and Croats who normally cheer on Serbia and Croatia in major international sports events.
Dragan Soldo, an unemployed Croat lawyer, said: “This is the only positive thing happening here and it shows a different picture of us to the outside world, that politicians are not the barometer of what we want to be.
“This is a step towards the normality of Bosnia as a state. The national team . . . if only for a moment, takes us beyond our reality.”
Excited Bosnian fans began packing buses heading to Lithuania straight after Friday’s 4-1 home win over Liechtenstein and more have booked charter flights to Kaunas.
Affan Aidan Sabanac left with his parents for Lithuania on Saturday, a gift for his sixth birthday which he will celebrate in Kaunas.
Asked what would make the perfect celebration, he told the Dnevni Avaz daily: “Victory of the Dragons.”
Bosnia will be at full strength and coach Safet Susic, a former international forward who played for Yugoslavia in the 1982 and 1990 tournaments, was beaming with confidence yesterday.
“We are awaiting the game with impatience,” he told reporters at Sarajevo airport. “The most important thing is that no one is suspended or injured and we have had a good rest after beating Liechtenstein. I am optimistic.”
Midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who plays for Serie A leaders Roma, added: “We are stronger than our rivals, we believe in ourselves and are out going out there to prove that we are the best team in this group [and] deserve to qualify for the World Cup.”