With nine goals in the European Zone of FIFA World Cup™ qualifying, Bosnia-Herzegovina striker Edin Dzeko rates as one of the most prolific goal-getters on the continent, second only to ten-goal Greece's Theofanis Gekas. This year, the month of May 2009 to be precise, also brought Dzeko the greatest moment of his career to date, the German Bundesliga title with VfL Wolfsburg.
After moving to Teplice from Sarajevo, his city of birth, Dzeko joined Die Wölfe in 2007 and now has 38 goals in 71 appearances for the German champions. The 23-year-old boasts an even more impressive record for his country, with 14 goals in 21 appearances. And largely thanks to his sharp-shooting, Bosnia-Herzegovina's dream of a first-ever trip to the FIFA World Cup finals remains well and truly alive.
In European Zone Group 5, where the seemingly invincible Spanish reeled off ten wins out of ten to stroll off with top spot, Bosnia sealed second place ahead of two nations with far greater FIFA World Cup experience, two-time contenders Turkey, and 11-time finalists Belgium.
In the play-offs on 14 and 18 November, the men from the Balkans now face a daunting task against Portugal, who came fourth at the 2006 tournament. "Portugal are the team I really wanted to avoid," commented Bosnia coach Miroslav Blazevic in the wake of the play-off draw. We'll have to fight to the end in both matches. It'll be a huge spectacle though, that's for sure. Both teams are well known for their flowing football."
A few days ahead of the first leg in Lisbon, FIFA.com spoke exclusively to national figurehead and standard-bearer Dzeko. The player looked ahead to the play-offs, discussed the dream of appearing at the FIFA World Cup finals, and spoke of the significance of football in his home country.
FIFA.com: Edin, you face Portugal in the FIFA World Cup play-offs. How would you assess Cristiano Ronaldo and Co?
Edin Dzeko: Obviously, the Portuguese start as favourites, no doubt about it. They have a great team and a huge amount of experience, although that doesn't mean we don't stand a chance. There are two games, and we'll give it everything.
How big are your chances of appearing at the FIFA World Cup next summer?
Like I say, it's over two legs, and if we can come away from their place with a decent result, anything's possible.
What are Bosnia's strengths and weaknesses?
The biggest point in our favour is our unity and determination as a team. We're a band of brothers, and we get along really well with one another. We're dangerous when we go forward too. All we lack is experience.
You lost your final group match 5-2 at home to Spain. Was that just a slip-up?
It was, and there's no shame in losing to Spain. The final score wasn't a fair reflection of the play either. We had more chances than the Spanish, but give them two half-chances, and they'll score two goals. We only lost 1-0 in a tight game over there.
What has to improve against Portugal, or to put it another way, what will be the decisive factor on 14 and 18 November?
It's vital we tighten up at the back. The entire team has to work hard in defence. At the other end, we're always good for a goal.
Is it an advantage to play the second leg at home in Zenica?
It could be an advantage, provided we come away with a result from the first game. If so, we could pull off a shock upset at home.
Tell us about the mood in the Bosnia camp ahead of the clash with the Portuguese.
The mood is good, as it always is. It's almost unbelievable how much we're looking forward to the tie, because we could achieve something incredible, and that's what we intend to do.
You missed out on UEFA EURO 2008, so how disappointing would it be if the 2010 FIFA World Cup took place without Bosnia-Herzegovina?
That's something I hope we never find out.
How is football regarded in your home country?
Football is easily the most popular sport, and the people live in hope of taking part in a major tournament at some point.
What would happen in Bosnia-Herzegovina if you seal a place at the FIFA World Cup?
It's impossible to imagine, and I actually don't want to think about it for the moment. Our people are already overjoyed about making it to the play-offs. It would just be fantastic for the country.
What does Bosnia-Herzegovina need to become a major footballing nation?
Better infrastructure and a good league.
Your former coach Felix Magath said this about you in a couple of interviews: "Dzeko is a massive talent, and I predict a great future for him." What's your response to that?
It's nice to hear, and it makes me even more determined to keep performing well.
Are you unhappy with any aspect of your game? Where could you improve?
I'm always trying to improve, and to reduce any weaknesses to a minimum.
Is there a club you'd like to join at some stage in the future?
I'm a big AC Milan fan. It's always been my goal to play for a big club at some point.
FIFA.com recently spoke exclusively to Portugal coach Carlos Queiroz. Asked which Bosnia player impressed him the most, he immediately mentioned your name. Are you surprised?
Really? I'm delighted. I hope he'll be even more impressed after our games against Portugal.