Bosnia-Herzegovina hopes its World Cup debut brings its war-torn country closer together

Graham Watson
Bosnia's Vedad Ibisevic (9) celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Bosnia at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 15, 2014
Bosnia's Vedad Ibisevic (9) celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group F World Cup soccer match between Argentina and Bosnia at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, June 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Vedad Ibisevic had a hard time finding the words to describe exactly what scoring the first-ever World Cup goal for Bosnia-Herzegovina meant to him and even a harder time describing what it meant to his country.

Even though Bosnia ultimately lost to Argentina 2-1 in its opening game of the World Cup, the feeling of Bosnian pride was overwhelming.

Ibisevic hasn’t lived in Bosnia in some time. He played college at St. Louis University in Missouri and has played internationally in Switzerland and France and currently plays for VfB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga. But he understands the pressure he and his teammates are under to have a good showing in their country's first-ever World Cup appearance and what it means to their people back home.

“I think it meant a lot, especially in the beginning when we heard our anthem for the first time in the World Cup,” Ibisevic said. “There were so many people and the world was watching, so it was just amazing to be here.

“We sure hope that we are showing that the national team is functioning and it’s working and the country should be working as well.”

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Even though Bosnia hasn’t been embroiled in war since many of the players were children, the effects are still there. Ibisevic recalled being 7 years old when Serb soldiers burned down his father’s village. His grandfather was murdered during the ethnic cleansing that took place in the country, which ultimately led to his family fleeing to St. Louis to find a better life.

Almost all of the players on Bosnia’s roster know someone who was killed during the country's times of struggle and have tales of fleeing. However, almost no one involved with the national team lives in the country anymore.

“We all have our lives, we all pretty much play outside of Bosnia and that doesn’t really influence us,” Ibisevic said.

But the team recently went back to Bosnia to tour and gain interest in the World Cup. Team captain Emir Spahic said it was heartbreaking to see so many people still struggling as Bosnia continued to rebuild after years of war.

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Despite not being able to beat Argentina in the Bosnia’s first game, the team agreed that it had put on a great showing and that it felt many of its citizens were proud of their effort. They’re hoping for a better result against Nigeria on Saturday.

“It was hard going around the country before World Cup because we were going around to some parts and those people in those moments was clearly a tough situation for us,” Spahic said. “Seeing those people suffering and losing everything in their life, it’s not a nice picture. Not at all.”

“This is a message for everybody,” Spahic said of Bosnia’s effort during the opening match. “We will fight for them in our way on the pitch.”

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter