Over the next few weeks the line-up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ will finally be completed. In Europe, eight sides will battle it out for the continent’s remaining four berths in the play-offs, which take place on 15-19 November, with Iceland the only one of those sides yet to appear in the world finals.
Whatever happens in those four ties, Europe will have at least one World Cup newcomer representing it in Brazil next year. Eighteen years on from the end of the war that rocked the country, Bosnia-Herzegovina is getting ready to make its debut on the biggest stage of all.
The Bosnians owe their place there in part to the scoring exploits of Vedad Ibisevic. The Stuttgart front man struck eight goals during the qualifiers, none more important than the winner in his side’s final group game in Lithuania, a goal that sparked scenes of jubilation on the pitch and back home.
“Qualifying means an awful lot for Bosnia-Herzegovina and for me personally,” the former Dijon player told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “The World Cup only comes around once every four years and it’s even more prestigious than the European championships. We came up short in the play-offs twice before, which makes this triumph all the more special.”
Pride and relief
Pictures of the joyous celebrations in Bosnia-Herzegovina went round the world. Fans across the country partied in the streets, with the players joining in as the fun continued through the night.
“We flew home straight after the match,” recalled the 29-year-old striker. “They’d organised a big reception in our honour and we even toured the city in a double-decker bus. The atmosphere was truly magical.”
Ibisevic remembers everything about the goal that triggered those scenes, surely the most important strike of his career. No sooner had the ball crossed the line than he made a beeline for the travelling fans to celebrate with them: “It was pure emotion,” he said.
Bosnia-Herzegovina’s glorious campaign was founded on a fierce front-line, with the Balkan side dropping a mere five out of the 30 on offer and scoring three or more in five of their eight games. Though pressed hard by Greece, the Bosnians also had the edge when it came to experience, as Ibisevic explained: “The pressure was huge in the last two matches, but we stayed calm and did what we had to.”
As they start planning for Brazil, the Bosnians can sit back and enjoy the play-offs from the comfort of home. As far as Ibisevic is concerned, France, Portugal and Croatia have the edge heading into their ties, and sees the fourth tie between the Greeks and Romania as too close to call.
They’d organised a big reception in our honour and we even toured the city in a double-decker bus. The atmosphere was truly magical.
Looking ahead to next summer, the Bosnian goal-getter, who ended the European qualifiers as the third-highest scorer, is excited about the possible prospect of facing Brazil in their own backyard. But with the tournament hosts among the big favourites to win the coveted trophy, Ibisevic is hoping to come face to face with them as late on in the competition is possible. Nor is he too keen on crossing swords with Germany, Spain or Argentina at an early stage.
The Vlasenica-born striker is understandably thrilled that he will have the chance to soak up the unique atmosphere of the FIFA World Cup and play in front of capacity crowds at magnificent stadiums. The tournament will also be an opportunity for him to pit his wits against the quality players he has yet to face in his career: “The finest footballers in the world will be there and I can’t wait to test myself against all those champion players.”
The best in the business
Topping Ibisevic’s list of greats is Lionel Messi. Last year’s FIFA Ballon d’Or winner remains one of the world’s top players in the Bosnian’s eyes and one of the favourites to win the accolade again, though he also believes Franck Ribery will pose a serious threat to the Argentinian: “He’s put in some fantastic performances with Bayern.”
No matter who they come up against, Ibisevic and his team-mates will head to Brazil with very clear objectives in mind. “We won’t be going there just to do some sightseeing and meet people,” he said, bringing our chat to an end. “We’ll be doing everything we can to do Bosnia-Herzegovina proud.”