Bosnia-Herzegovina qualified for the 2014 World Cup with a 1-0 win over Lithuania in Kaunas on Tuesday, a landmark achievement for the tiny nation – and one that can be traced, in some small part, to the US heartland.
The man who scored the decisive goal for the Dragons is Vedad Ibisevic, the 29-year-old striker with rich American ties. During his teenage years, his family emigrated from Bosnia to escape the brutal ethnic conflict that engulfed the region in the 1990s, eventually settling in St. Louis.
Ibisevic first made his name as a standout youth player in the early 2000s, then continued his rise with a breakout season at St. Louis University, notching 18 goals and four assists and earning All-American and Soccer America NCAA Freshman of the Year honors.
His familial homeland soon called him in to a youth national team camp and attention from top European clubs quickly followed. After several trial stints, he returned to the US to play a season in the USL Premier Development League, only for French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain to make him a contract offer he couldn't refuse, kicking off a fruitful pro career that continues today with Bundesliga side Stuttgart.
Ibisevic's family still lives in St. Louis, and they – along with much of the city's sizeable Bosnian-American population – will likely be in attendance at Bosnia-Herzegovina's international friendly against Lionel Messi and Argentina on Nov. 18 at Busch Stadium.
Tickets for that match are already on sale but final confirmation of B&H's participation was not assured until the team had qualified for their first-ever World Cup without needing to navigate UEFA's two-legged playoff round for group runners-up.
Now the party can proceed in earnest.