“Vi ste, vi ste, ponos države, ponos države, ponos države”.
Those were the words that reverberated throughout the Darius and Girėnas Stadium after a Vedad Ibišević goal in the 68th minute sealed all three points for the Zmajevi (Dragons). Sung to the tune of Yellow Submarine, it roughly translates to “You are, you are, the pride of the state”. It echoed through Sarajevo with rapture. Thousands of fans flocked to the streets in jubilation as for the first time in the nation’s history; the Dragons were going to the World Cup.
It has been a long road for the Dragons to qualify for a major tournament. Only one goal in the last home game against Denmark separated them from directly qualifying to the Euro 2004 finals in Portugal. In qualification for the 2006 World Cup, they were pitted against Spain, Belgium and another former Yugoslav nation, Serbia and Montenegro. They performed admirably, with one notable performance being against Spain where they nearly captured a famous victory on Spanish soil had it not been for a Carlos Marchena goal in the 96th minute to tie the game. They finished the group in third place with Serbia and Montenegro and Spain clinching qualification. They missed out on both the World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 Finals after losing out to Portugal on two separate qualifying knockout rounds. Through their journey, the Dragons have faced trials and tribulations and have emerged from the fire a much stronger beast. Below is a brief summary of players who will play a major role in this summer’s tournament.
It seems as though all the pieces have finally fallen together for the Zmajevi, their attacking threat, which scored thirty goals during qualifiers, is finally coupled with a resolute defense that only conceded six.
In between the sticks, Stoke City’s Asmir Begovic will be providing a steady pair of hands that will no doubt give the rest of his teammates the confidence to be able to express themselves. Comfortable in the air and with ball at his feet, his impressive performances against the Premier League’s best had him touted for a move to both Arsenal and Real Madrid earlier in the year. A keeper who is no stranger to facing world class opposition, Begovic will be out to frustrate the would be goalscorers of group F.
. The left-back position has been a slight headache for Bosnia in recent times, with Hoffenheim midfielder Sejad Salihovic often filling the whole for country, but the recent emergence of Schalke’s 20-year-old Sead Kolasinac has finally provided Bosnia a player with all the attributes of a modern day fullback. German Coach Joachim Low recently said he was upset when Kolasinac (pronounced Kola-shee-nutz) decided to play for Bosnia because he was counting on taking him to the World Cup with Germany. The sentiments are echoed by club teammate and German midfielder Julian Draxler who said that Kolasinac will go on to be one of the best left-backs in the world. Begovic describes Kolasinac as “a very, very good full-back who loves to get forward” and has been pegged by many Bosnian supporters as the player to watch this tournament.
Due to his versatility, Roma star Miralem Pjanić has been deployed in various positions throughout the midfield mainly in the center or on the right side of a 4-4-2 but also has the tenacity to play as a holding midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 where he was most recently deployed against Mexico. A free-kick specialist, he is considered a great technician with excellent dribbling abilities (see video below) and has plenty of Champions League experience to boot, reaching the semifinals with former club Lyon in the 2009-10 season. Pjanić will hope to transfer his form in Europe’s highest competition onto the world stage.
Accompanying Pjanić in the center as a holding midfielder will be Muhamed Bešić, Bosnia’s youngest-ever international, a record previously held by Pjanić.
“I knew several months ago that (Muhamed) Besic would be in the squad, because he is the only player here who can handle the job of man-marking Lionel Messi.” – Safet Sušić, Bosnia and Herzegovina Coach
A center back by trade, Bešić excels at being able to read plays and making timely interceptions, coupled with his ability to quickly turn defence into attack with his accurate long-range passing to the flanks. In Bešić’s first season in Hungary, he was named the best foreign player in the division and will be another young player out to showcase his talents to the world.
Edin Džeko is certainly the player with the highest profile on the Bosnian team and the weight of expectation of an entire nation rests on his ever capable shoulders. The Manchester City striker scored 10 goals in 10 games for the Dragons on their way to qualification, which put him one behind the leading goalscorer in European qualification Robin van Persie. The striker also proves to be the complete package when playing for country, notching up six assist along the way. The former Bundesliga Players’ Footballer of the Year has great aerial ability that is coupled with a keen eye for a pass and is excellent with his back to goal. Although he often plays as a second striker in Sušić’s 4-4-2, a switch in systems will more than likely see him deployed as a lone striker and he will have to rely on all his Premier League experience to take on the resolute defenses the World Cup will have to offer.
Written by Chris Alvarez
Follow him on Twitter: @discompany
The Zmajevi, the Bosnian Dragon, represents liberty. Something so powerful that cannot be trapped or cage. The symbolism of “the Dragon of Bosnia” dates back to the 1830’s. It represents the resilience of the Bosnian and their unconquerable and unbreakable character. Almost all of these players grew up in different countries and had the chance to represent different nations. Every single one of them chose to represent Bosnia and Herzegovina for what it meant to themselves, their friends and their families. The carnage of war had many people abandon their homes and seek refuge in all places around the world. Perhaps for the first time since 1994 they will all be united for 90 minutes; that is the power of football.
Goalkeepers: Asmir Begovic (Stoke City), Jasmin Fejzic (Aalen), Asmir Avdukic (Borac Banja Luka)
Defenders: Emir Spahic (Bayer Leverkusen), Sead Kolasinac (Schalke 04), Ermin Bicakcic (Eintracht Braunschweig), Ognjen Vranjes (Elazigspor), Toni Sunjic (Zarya Lugansk), Avdija Vrsajevic (Hajduk Split), Mensur Mujdza (Freiburg)
Midfielders: Zvjezdan Misimovic (Guizhou Renhe), Haris Medunjanin (Gaziantepspor), Miralem Pjanic (AS Roma), Sejad Salihovic (Hoffenheim), Senad Lulic (Lazio), Izet Hajrovic (Galatasaray), Senijad Ibricic (Erciyesspor), Tino Sven Susic (Hajduk Split), Muhamed Besic (Ferencvaros), Anel Hadzic (Sturm Graz)
Forwards: Edin Dzeko (Manchester City), Vedad Ibisevic (VfB Stuttgart), Edin Visca (Istanbul BB)