Emotions are running high in the Bosnia-Herzegovina camp, with the players brimming with pride and excitement as the 2014 global showpiece draws closer. This summer marks a first FIFA World Cup™ appearance for the Zlatni Ljiljani (Golden Lilies), who are also the only debutants at the 20th edition of the tournament in South America.
Vedad Ibisevic and Sejad Salihovic both played a pivotal role in their country’s qualifying campaign, with the Balkan nation winning an impressive eight games out of ten and finding the net 30 times along the way. The centre-forward and midfield maestro are just two of seven in the Bosnia squad currently plying their trade in the top two tiers of German football, while key figures Edin Dzeko and Zvjezdan Misimovic also made a name for themselves in the Bundesliga before moving onto pastures new. German is even spoken in the Bosnia-Herzegovina camp from time to time.
Two different paths, one common goal
It was Ibisevic who secured his country’s passage to Brazil this summer, scoring his eighth goal of the qualifying campaign as Safet Susic's team beat Lithuania last October. The victory prompted a state of frenzy back home. “It was an historic day for us and the people in Bosnia,” recalled the 29-year-old in an interview with FIFA.
After growing up in former Yugoslavia and Switzerland, Ibisevic emigrated to the USA with his family in 2000 before making a one-way journey back across the Atlantic just three years later. A whole host of clubs were battling it out to sign the young forward, but Paris Saint-Germain eventually lured him to the French capital.
Following spells in Dijon and Aachen, Ibisevic finally made his breakthrough in the German second tier with 1899 Hoffenheim. Together with team-mate and countryman Sejad Salihovic, the frontman propelled the club to promotion then switched to domestic rivals VfB Stuttgart, while Salihovic remained at Hoffenheim.
Both players are looking to make an impression in Brazil. A long time has passed since the Zlatni Ljiljani's memorable victory over Lithuania and, with their preparations now complete, Susic's men can look forward to beginning their World Cup campaign on Sunday evening in Rio de Janeiro. The fact that they will be making their debut against two-time world champions Argentina at the Estadio Maracana will not faze the Bosnians, who will be facing the South American side eight months to the day after that fateful win in Kaunas.
I think that we’ll be a hit with the neutrals because they’re seeing us for the first time.
“Of course these are special circumstances, but we’re all professionals and we shouldn't let it affect us,” explained Ibisevic before confessing his excitement at lining up against world superstar Lionel Messi. Salihovic echoed his team-mate's sentiment as the pair chatted to FIFA: “Everyone knows about the Maracana; everyone talks about it. But we need to focus on the match. Argentina are one of the favourites, but we’re here to win.”
Salihovic has certainly taken a more direct route to the top than his fellow Bosnian. Having fled to Berlin with his family at the age of seven, he progressed through the youth ranks at Hertha BSC before moving to Hoffenheim in 2006. The 29-year-old has since become one of the most feared free-kick specialists in world football and is now ready to showcase his talents on the world stage, while also hoping that his assists can prevent the Zlatni Ljiljani from falling at the first hurdle.
“We’re better than Nigeria and Iran,” he said boldly as the interview drew to a close. “That’s why I believe we’ll progress to the knockout stages. We've got enough quality to get there, and so this must remain our objective.”
Ibisevic, who has admitted that he will never forget the moment when he first pulls on the blue of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the World Cup, is hoping the local population in Brazil will pledge their support to his team. “We’re the newest team at the World Cup and we’re making our debut, so I think that we’ll be a hit with the neutrals because they’re seeing us for the first time. Hopefully the Brazilian fans will all be supporting us at the Maracana too. Argentina are their big rivals after all.”