CAIRO – Reviving hopes of unity, Bosnia and Herzegovina qualifying for their first ever World Cup has been praised as a chance to bind a once bitterly divided nation and to end years of ethnic divisions and fighting.
“Football's a way of bringing people together,” Bosnia's sports minister Salmir Kaplan told The Independent.
“I think many more people support our national team than even a few years ago.”
Bosnia gained qualification to world cup after a 1-0 win over Lithuania on the first day of ` Eid Al-Adha, October 15, to spread joy along with `Eid celebrations among the fans in the Muslim country.
Screaming of joy, commentators on Bosnian TV said: “We're in Brazil, We're in Brazil, B-H is in Brazil!”
On the other hand, the victory revived many dreams of unity for the people of the small, young European country.
Bosnia’s victory revived earlier hopes from the 1970s when Radovan Karadzic taught FK Sarajevo players that no matter what their ethnicity, to be one team, to ignore their differences.
These manners were the polar opposite to the segregation he preached and the fears he preyed upon as he led the Bosnian Serbs in their offensive against the city.
Karadzic is currently awaiting trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity.
However, Predrag Pasic, a former FP midfielder, ran a football school for Bosnian, Serb, Croat, Jewish and Roma boys in besieged Sarajevo – coaching anyone as the mortars fell.
He also played for Yugoslavia, which qualified to the world cup in 1962 and 1990, before team and country alike imploded.
“We supported Yugoslavia as our country and we still think of their results as 'ours',” remembers sports journalist Sasa Ibrulj, who, like Ibrahimovic's father, left Bosnia for Sweden.
“After all, our heroes – players from our clubs – used to play for Yugoslavia.”
Being let down by politicians, Bosnians see football as a rare chance to celebrate.
“Despite all the troubles and financial hardships, a small, mostly divided country still manages to produce some of the best players and win big games,” Fedja Saric, a Bosnia fan who attended Lithuania game, said.
“It's an honor to support players who are in touch with their supporters. You see them playing to make their fans proud, rather than for the money.”
Despite the superficial sense of peace, anger over government ineptitude, corruption and ethnic infighting simmers.
This summer, a wave of protests swept the country, fired by the Government failing to issue newborns with ID numbers to access medical care.
For some Bosnian’s, the government’s support for football was a trial to take minds off problems elsewhere.
“Of course, sport is cohesive and beneficial for the good mental and economic health of the nation,” muses Mustafa Mujezinovic, the friendly ambassador to Britain.
“As a player I don't want to think about politics,” says Edin Dzeko, flatly.
“From personal experience I know it's not good. I'm interested in what's happening on the pitch,” adds the 27-year-old.
Years after war, Bosnian Serbs in Republika Srpska have carved out their own team during the war.
Asked if there ever be two Bosnian teams Sasa Ibrulj said, “Probably never. The Republika Sprska football federation can't be a Fifa or Uefa member if the 'country' is not in the UN.”
“I don't see how they could become an independent country. However, they can play friendlies – and are planning to do so.”
Therefore, some analysts pin hopes on Bosnia’s team success in the world cup which could bring more Serb and Croat fans to the national team.
“More Serbs and Croats support our national team,” says the Bosnian FA's Slavica Pecikoza.
“Our team plays attractive football. Now it's a natural thing that Serbs and Croats from Bosnia play for Bosnia. Things are better than they were before.”
Manchester City's Edin Dzeko appreciates the faith the fans put in him.
“I really love Bosnia. It's always been my dream to play for the national team.”
His friend Asmir Begovic, Stoke City and Bosnia's highly-rated goalkeeper, agrees.
“I think it has drawn more attention to the positive side of things in Bosnia and also made people back home happier. It gives them something to smile about.”
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