It is no secret that football can inspire people. Indeed, the world's favourite sport has caused a huge wave of enthusiasm in Bosnia-Herzegovina following the young nation's recent exploits on the international stage. Certainly, the country's four million inhabitants have never been prouder.
After going into one of the toughest European Zone qualifying groups for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ as firm outsiders, Miroslav Blazevic's gutsy team currently lie second with two games remaining. Though eight points behind group leaders and UEFA EURO 2008 winners Spain, they have a four-point cushion over third-placed Turkey and are nine clear of Belgium.
The Bosnians have undoubtedly come a long way since their inception in 1996, but their dreams could well become a reality on Saturday 10 October, if they can take all three points in Tallinn against Estonia and secure a play-off berth. "It would mean so much to the people back home because they had to endure a lot of pain during the civil war," said Zvjezdan Misimovic in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
A true No10
The Wolfsburg playmaker has been at the heart of Bosnia-Herzegovina's success in the current FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. A classic No10, the Munich-born schemer came through the youth ranks at local giants Bayern, and has gone on to become the focal point of the national team. Indeed, there are no shortage of respected observers who already consider Misimovic to be one of the finest creators in Europe.
The way he caresses the ball with his white boots and sprays cross-field passes to the feet of his team-mates, not to mention his seemingly effortless ability to ghost past defenders, have left both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Wolfsburg fans alike entranced. "A good playmaker is one who can dictate the flow of the game, help out in defence and create chances for his team-mates," said Misimovic, who has these qualities in spades.
I'm sure we'll do it. We're so close now, we just need to make sure we finish the job in Estonia.
A FIFA World Cup appearance is the ultimate aim for the man who has also shown his goalscoring capacity with four goals in seven qualifiers so far this campaign. "I'd be very proud (if we qualify), particularly as it would be our first tournament," said Misimovic.
The 27-year-old would most likely celebrate in Wolfsburg with club-mate Edin Dzeko, who himself has notched seven goals in Group 5. "Of course the national team profits from our understanding at club level," continued Misimovic.
It would be no overstatement to say that the current crop of Bosnian talent is the country's golden generation. As well as Misimovic and Dzeko, other top players such as Elvir Rahimic (CSKA Moscow), Emir Spahic (Montpellier), Miralem Pjanic (Lyon), Zlatan Muslimovic (PAOK), Sejad Salihovic and Vedad Ibisevic (both Hoffenheim) have all played an important part in ensuring that the nation ranked 46th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking are in with realistic chance of making South Africa 2010.
Individuals aside, Misimovic puts his side's recent success down to good team spirit: "Many of the squad members played together in the U-21s, so we have some excellent camaraderie within the group," he explained.
Each one of coach Blazevic's squad have gelled to make Bosnia-Herzegovina the team they are today, and Misimovic is convinced that they will be leaving Tallinn full of smiles. "I'm sure we'll do it. We're so close now, we just need to make sure we finish the job in Estonia," he said.
The euphoric fans back home would love nothing more than to see their heroes walk out onto the pitch for their inaugural FIFA World Cup match in South Africa next summer. And should Misimovic and Co successfully reach and negotiate the play-offs, Bosnia-Herzegovina's rise to glory would be nothing short of a fairy tale.
Still, the Wolfsburg star was keen to keep things in perspective as the interview drew to a close: "We have a good, young team but we're not good enough to compete with the very best yet. That said, at home we can beat anyone."