Only A Game? - Bosnia and Herzegovina have my admiration

The Bosnia and Herzegovina international team.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international team.

The Bosnia and Herzegovina team is one of the best stories to come out of the World Cup.

Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this column Bosnia will have won their first ever football match at a World Cup finals but even if they haven’t they will already have won the respect and adoration of many football fans all over the world.

Bosnia’s first ever game at a World Cup finals came against Argentina last week and whilst the European minnows lost 2-1 they caused the exceptionally gifted Messi and Co. no end of problems.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was a former part of Yugoslavia before it broke up after the Bosnian War in 1992.

The country’s capital, Sarajevo, was synonymous with bombings, gun battles and some of the most horrendous violence of the last 30 years.

Over 100,000 people lost their lives during the Bosnian War and as you would imagine the scars still run extremely deep there.

There is no way anyone could ever discount what happened in Bosnia but remarkably the country now exists more harmoniously now than it ever did in the recent past.

In the run up to Bosnia’s clash with Argentina the BBC ran an amazing package which documented Bosnian international goalkeeper, Asmir Begović’s relationship with his country.

Begović and his family escaped the war in the early nineties and travelled to Germany before eventually settling in Canada.

Begović showed talent for football when in Canada and it wasn’t long until the Canadian national team offered him the chance to play international football.

As you’d expect, Begović jumped at the chance and lined out for the Canadians but a short time later he returned home to Bosnia for his grandfather’s funeral.

As he stepped off the plane in Sarajevo, Begović felt an immediate connection with the country of his birth and before long he declared to play for the Bosnia and Herzegovina international football team.

By opting to answer the call of his country of origin, Begović, in his own way, was contributing to country’s healing process and when the BBC interviewed his proud grandmother back in Sarajevo it was evident that his decision had made a massive difference.

Bosnia and Herzegovina have a population smaller than Ireland and the way in which ethnic cleansing was carried out there during the Bosnian War cannot even be imagined but still the people there were able to strive towards a better future.

The similarities between the conflict in Ireland and what went on in Bosnia are clear to see and like the vast majority of the people in Ireland, the people of Bosnia have only peace on their minds.

One of the things that impressed me the most about the BBC’s package was the disdain with which Bosnian’s hold those players who were born there or have links to the country but opt to play for other countries.

Zlatan Ibrahimović, who was born to Bosniak father, is one of these players and it’s easy to see why the people of Bosnia feel that way. They are protective of what they’ve built up and are selective who they support and who they do not.

Bosnia and Herzegovina might not win the World Cup but they’ve won the hearts of many.