From the ashes of civil war to glory on the football field, Bosnia will be making its first World Cup appearance in Brazil.
Hardly a household name in European football, Bosnia played its first match as an independent nation in 1995 as the war ended following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.
Nearly two decades later, the Bosnians made history when Vedad Ibisevic scored in the 1-0 win over Lithuania in Kaunas to qualify his team for the tournament in Brazil.
The victory sparked wild scenes of jubilation in Sarajevo, where fans celebrated with fireworks and chanting. But it was mostly Bosnian Muslims who celebrated as the majority of Bosnian Serbs and Croats still support the national teams in their neighboring countries.
Bosnia coach Safet Susic, a star midfielder in the former Yugoslavia, noted that the country is still torn apart by political and economic problems, but he hopes playing in Brazil will bring people together.
“A few years ago you could not imagine Bosnians, Serbs and Croats supporting the team, but that could change now,” Susic said.
Bosnia has twice come close to reaching major tournaments, losing out to Portugal on both occasions in the playoffs for the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.
“It would have been a real injustice if we had failed to win the group and qualify for the World Cup,” Susic said.
Under the charge of Susic and with players of the caliber of Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic and Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, Bosnia finally did it.
The team won eight of its 10 matches in qualifying, drawing once and losing once. With 30 goals scored, Bosnia had the fourth-highest tally in the European zone while conceding only six goals.
“We have two top strikers in Dzeko and Ibisevic, a couple of very creative but also attack-minded midfielders like (Zvjezdan) Misimovic and Pjanic,” Susic said. “We have a great generation of players that have been together for some time now and everything has clicked.”
The one weak link in Brazil — where Bosnia will face Argentina, Nigeria and Iran in Group F — could be the defensive line as injuries have disrupted the central partnership and both fullback positions have huge question marks over them.
Despite the problem, the Bosnians are cautiously optimistic that they could emerge at least second in the group and reach the round of 16.
“Obviously, the first game against Argentina is going to be really tough, but it’s going to be exciting and we are really looking forward to it,” Begovic said. “We have to make sure that we are well prepared and hopefully with a little bit of luck on our side, we get through the group.
“That’s our goal. We will see what happens.”