They're not exactly a household name in the soccer world, but the Bosnians have some real stars that can do some major damage in their first-ever World Cup. But whatever the final results in Brazil, their appearance is sure to help to unite a young nation (only 21 years of independence) still grappling with political and ethnic divisions (listen to this BBC report on what the soccer team's success really means).
WORLD CUP PROSPECTS
Don't be fooled by their lack of size or history. This is a very good side. Their group plays to their strengths. Argentina are the favorites, of course, but Nigeria and Iran are definitely beatable for a side as talented, cohesive, and disciplined as the Zmajevi (Dragons). And if they get a good result against the Argentines in their opener, the prospects are that much more interesting.
But assuming they don't, then the second match against Nigeria becomes paramount. Provided the defense, which conceded only 6 goals in qualifying, holds strong against a tricky, dynamic Super Eagles attack, they should be fine. Then it all comes down to the Iran game, most likely. Coincidentally, Iran was the Bosnians' first opponent after independence, in 1993 -- a 3-1 loss in Tehran.
GROUP F SCHEDULE
WHO GOT THEM THERE
Edin Dzeko, F, Manchester City (pictured left): He's the biggest name on the team and he delivered during qualifying with 10 goals, forming a deadly partnership with Vedad Ibisevic (8 goals). This might just be the only way to stop him.
Asmir Begovic, GK, Stoke City: Many consider him a Top 5 'keeper in the English Premier League, not only for his saves (watch highlight reel), but also because he can even score goals (watch it here). He's probably glad he switched to play for No. 16-ranked Bosnia, instead of Canada (ranked No. 111).
Zvjezdan Misimovic, M, Guizhou Renhe FC (video right): Dzeko and Ibisevic get all the headlines, but Mismovic is the man pulling the strings (see video). The 31-year-old may be playing in the soccer backwoods of China, but Bosnia can’t do it without him and his all-time caps record proves it.
Safet Susic (right) was a legend long before he took over the reins of the Bosnian national team (watch this video to understand why).
Now a monument can’t be too far behind after what he’s done as coach, transforming BiH (native abbreviation) from a mid-level European nation to one of the Top 20-ranked teams in the world (No. 16 in Oct. 2013).
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
WCQ record: 8-1-1, 25 pts. / 30 GF, 6 GA (first place in Europe’s Group G)
Bosnia-Herzegovina beat up on the weaker teams (Liechtenstein, Latvia and Lithuania) and more importantly came away with four out of six points from their head-to-head with group favorites Greece. But they still needed a superior goal difference (+24 compared to Greece’s +8) to earn the automatic berth as group winners.
WORLD CUP HISTORY
The 2014 World Cup is Bosnia-Herzegovina’s first foray in a major international competition, but they’ve come close in recent years. In fact, they managed to advance to a playoff for a berth to both the 2010 World Cup and the Euro 2012 championships, only for Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal to oust them on both occasions with goals like this. It's clearly why Bosnians greet him at the airport to chants of "Messi."
The USMNT recently defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina on the road with a 4-3 comeback victory in Sarajevo in August 2013 (HIGHLIGHTS) … Bosnia-Herzegovina have played on US soil in each of the last three years (Nov. 18, 2013, in St. Louis, May 31, 2012, in Chicago and Feb. 9, 2011, in Atlanta) … Star forward Vedad Ibisevic emerged as a collegiate star in St. Louis, home of a sizeable Bosnian community … Former Chivas USA and current USMNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan has Bosnian roots and still has family in Sarajevo … The list of notable Bosnian-born players that played in MLS includes Baggio Husidic (recently signed with LA Galaxy), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (82 appearances over six seasons) and 2009’s No. 5 overall SuperDraft pick Peri Marosevic.