Back on 22 March 2013, after Bosnia-Herzegovina’s impressive 3-1 victory over Greece in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, coach Safet Susic came out with a remarkable statement. “This fantastic result fills me with a certain fear, because no one will forgive us if we miss out on the finals in Brazil now," the 58-year-old mused. In the wake of an equally imposing 5-0 triumph away to Latvia six days ago, we will probably never know whether the coach is still losing sleep for the same reason.
The current Bosnia team is firing on all cylinders, as an always promising generation has grown into a formidable attacking force. Their emergence as high-flyers comes against a background of a yearning for success tempered by good-humoured pragmatism, earning them a place in the hearts of the global footballing community. Susic is experienced enough to know that his troops need not fear anyone these days. And it is not as if the past exerts an unbearable pressure for success, as the Bosnians have never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.
That seems odds-on to change this time round. In European qualifying Group G, Bosnia-Herzegovina top the section with five wins and a draw from six matches, and hold a three-point lead over the Greeks. Susic and his men are the top scorers in the European competition on 23 goals so far, with only three conceded in reply.
Dzecko, Begovic impressing
The nation of some 4.6 million in the heart of the Balkans is watching a proverbial golden generation blossom and flourish, a fact reflected in the latest FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. In the June edition of the chart, Bosnia are up six places to a best-ever 15th on the back of an undefeated run covering nine matches and more than a year. And this is not just of interest to the statistically minded, because fans and followers of the game must now sit up and take notice of Susic’s exceptional squad with an eye on next year's global showdown in Brazil.
The Zmajevi (Dragons), as the team is lovingly known at home, are poised for a successful final assault on a summit which has come tantalisingly within reach twice in the last four years. The men from the Balkans made waves in qualifying for both the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ and UEFA EURO 2012, reaching the play-offs on both occasions, only to fall to Portugal each time. The remaining hurdles before Susic and his team can claim a confirmed spot in Brazil are a double-header against Slovakia, who lie 41 places further back in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, and games against Lichtenstein (158th in the world) and Lithuania (105th).
The charge is led by a free-scoring attacking unit, spearheaded by Manchester City centre forward Edin Dzeko, the top scorer in European qualifying with eight goals. He is aided and abetted by Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic, currently joint second in the scoring charts on six goals with Tomer Hemed of Israel. At the other end, Stoke City keeper Asmir Begovic has earned rave reviews for a string of outstanding displays. A few days ago, the 25-year-old was voted ‘Idol of the Nation’ in Bosnia, a title claimed by Dzeko three times in a row before that.
“This award is a great honour but also brings great responsibility," Begovic reflected, “I have to justify this faith. And the best way of doing that is to reach the World Cup finals next year." Let there be no doubt: all eyes in Bosnian football are firmly focused on Brazil.