The Bosnian football team (together with the Croatian team in the background)
There are 1,607 football clubs active in Bosnia with over 20,000 registered players. But the creation of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s national football team has not been easy. Between August 2007 and May 2008 the national team has fallen in FIFA rankings from 25th to 62nd place.
On 1 June 2008, an estimated 20,000 fans cheered on Bosnia's top football players as they played an important game in defiance of the management of Bosnia's Football Association. The players and fans have been protesting the corruption and incompetence of the Association. For them, the last straw was the sacking of the new coach and former football star, Meho Kodro, for refusing to take charge of a friendly against Iran, which had been set up in place of a friendly against Poland.
At the beginning of 2007 a total of 13 soccer players refused to play for the national team in protest at the Bosnian Football Association’s alleged mismanagement and incompetence.
Dario Damjanovic. Photo: glasdalmacije.com
According to Dario Damjanovic, who was born in Gradacac, a renewed team spirit has taken root in the national squad.
"It is not important that there are different nationalities in the Reprezentacija. We are like a family. I personally feel like at home […]. We are all like one body, like one spirit."
"I am playing for the country that I was born in, and nobody can take this away from me […]. We are coming together, the players from Sarajevo and us, who are from the rest of Bosnia and who know each other, and we talk a little about our home country, about Bosnia, remember all the things that happened. Seriously, I am so rarely here. There are many players who stay here; but we, who come from abroad, we have more emotions.”
The Bosnian national team has had only a few successes in major international games. In the qualifying rounds for the Euro 2008 championship, Bosnia beat Turkey 3:2 at home. They beat Norway away 1:2 and won twice against Malta. The team came fourth in their group (Group C).
The team's biggest success: In the C Qualifying Group for UEFA EURO 2008. Bosnia beat Turkey 3:2
Bosnian football is still much more known for the skill of its individual players – like Sergej Barbarez or Hasan Salihamidzic – than for the national Reprezentacija.
Sergej Barbarez from Mostar (L). Photo: bundesliga.de
Hasan Salihamidzic from Jablanica (R). Photo: daylife.com
Zvjezdan Misimovic, former captain of the national team, has played over 30 times in midfield for Bosnia. Born in Munich of Serb parents, Misimovic played for FC Nürnberg during the 2007/2008 season.
"It is quite strange,” he says. “When you come now to the part where I come from, everybody cheers for Serbia. There you get very little information about the Bosnian national team. And when you come to Herzegovina, you see almost nothing but Croatian flags, since they are Catholics up there. It is a little bit strange, but I believe that more people will turn to Bosnia and support us."
"In the past there were almost only Bosniaks that played, and now there are Serbs and Catholics. The national team is multicultural now; therefore I think that more and more people will turn to it […]. Yes, I feel Bosnian, not Serbian anymore. My parents are from Bosnia […]. And I spend my holidays here, have many friends. And I feel like a Bosnian and it is not even a question for me."
According to a fellow Serb, Branimir Bajic, a 29-year-old defender playing club football in Germany for the second league TuS Koblenz:
"To play for the national team means a lot for a soccer player. It proves his value – that his skills are sought after. Already being invited to the Reprezentacija proves his skills. Secondly, it is an honour to play for the Bosnian national team."
Attitudes at home can make it hard for players to join the national team, however. Branimir Bajic explained what happened when he was playing club football in his home town of Bijeljina in Bosnia:
"I have already become a target. I am, by the way, from Republika Srpska, and I have played in the RS League for Radnik Bijeljina. And when it turned out that I was playing for the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team, this presented a problem for some people there."
There can be many other reasons why a Bosnian would not want to play for the national team. Some 600,000 Bosnians have migrated during the last two decades to Serbia, to Croatia or further abroad – not to mention migrations in earlier times.
Niko Kovac, Croatia's Captain
Niko Kovac is the captain of the Croatian national team which reached the quarterfinals of the Euro 2008. Niko and his team-mate brother Robert were born to a family of Croatian guest-workers in West Berlin. Their parents originally hail from Livno in the west of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Niko Kovac started his football career in Germany at a local club, Hertha Zehlendorf. He now plays for Red Bull Salzburg.
Some of BiH's political elite is unwilling to lend the Bosnian national team its backing. Milorad Dodik, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, dismisses the national team, where a number of his own citizens are playing, as a Bosniak-only enterprise:
"I am, of course, no matter what anybody might think about it, for Serbia when it comes to national teams. When they play against Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am for Serbia. I think that is normal. Of course, I also think that it is normal for the Bosniaks to be for Bosnia and Herzegovina. And I am of the opinion that it is normal that Croats are for Croatia."