Bosnia-Herzegovina are clearly a team on the rise, as evidenced by their recent back-to-back wins over Belgium that have propelled them into second place in Group 5 in European Zone qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Miroslav Blazevic's team have also made considerable strides on the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Their 208-point haul this April was the largest of any nation and moved them 20 places to 38th, the second-highest ranking in their history after peaking at number 25 in August 2007.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, an official FIFA member association since 1996, now find themselves with a great chance of making it to their first ever FIFA World Cup at the fourth attempt. "I hope we don't suffer another disappointment this time," said star striker Edin Dzeko in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
We'll do everything we can to qualify for the World Cup. We have a good team, but we'll need a bit of luck along the way too.
On the evidence of their previous three qualification campaigns, the logical progression would be for Bosnia-Herzegovina to finally buck the trend and make it to South Africa next summer. During the France 1998 preliminary competition, their maiden campaign, two wins over Slovenia and another home success against Denmark were not enough to prevent then-coach Fuad Muzurovic's charges from finishing second-bottom of the group.
Four years later and it was a similar story, despite two victories over lowly Liechtenstein, the only team to finish below them on the road to Korea/Japan 2002. Most recently, the Bosnians narrowly missed out on qualification for Germany 2006 after finishing in the unenviable position of third, although that performance appears to have galvanised the squad to go one better this time around.
There is still a lot of work to be done in terms of qualification for South Africa 2010, though, especially with Spain pulling away at the top of Group 5 after six wins from as many games, including a 1-0 home victory over the Golden Lilies. Bosnia-Herzegovina currently lie six points behind the European champions on 12, ahead of Turkey, Belgium, Estonia and Armenia.
In order to avoid a play-off against another second-placed team, Dzeko and Co can only hope La Roja slip up, while also ensuring a flawless finish to their own campaign. Should the Bosnians manage this feat, it would render their duel with the Spaniards on 14 October 2009 a decider for first place.
Wolfsburg hitman Dzeko is conscious of the fact that qualification is currently out of his team's hands: "We'll do everything we can to qualify for the World Cup. We have a good team, but we'll need a bit of luck along the way too." The 23-year-old made the difference with three goals in the two wins over Belgium, and his total of seven strikes so far make him the leading marksman in European Zone qualifying.
Not many teams are good enough to score back-to-back victories over a side like Belgium. Now we need to make the most of this glorious opportunity.
Coach Blazevic was clearly delighted to see his side gain maximum points from the recent double-header with the Red Devils: "I was so proud to see our fans celebrating along with myself and our goalkeeper Nemanja Supic. Not many teams are good enough to score back-to-back victories over a side like Belgium, and it showed what great chemistry we have as a squad. Now we need to push on and make the most of this glorious opportunity."
The return of midfield ace Zlatan Bajramovic will come as a massive boost for the Bosnians as they prepare for their remaining Group 5 fixtures. The 29-year-old made his international return in the 4-2 away win over the Belgians at the end of March after almost four years' absence through injury, and even popped up with a goal in the return fixture on 1 April.
And if Bajramovic can inspire his team to their first FIFA World Cup appearance in South Africa next summer, it would send the nation into raptures. "Football is by far the most popular sport in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the people live in the hope that one day we will be part of such a great sporting event," added Dzeko.