Bosnia and Herzegovina's Izet Hajrovic (L) celebrates his goal with team mates Sejad Salihovic (23) and Senad Lulic (R) during the first half of their international friendly soccer match against Mexico at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois June 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)Bosnia and Herzegovina's Hajrovic celebrates his goal against Mexico during their international friendly soccer match at Soldier Field in Chicago
At last summer's Confederations Cup, Tahiti built a global fanbase as they lived the dream of any almost entirely amateur side playing in a major international tournament. They gave their opponents shell necklaces as gifts before each match they played and they celebrated their only goal like they won the World Cup despite getting blown out of every game.
The 2014 World Cup doesn't have any scrappy amateur sides, but it does have a first time qualifier from a relatively new, war torn nation of just four million people that seems ready to carry on that Tahitian spirit while also making a legitimate challenge for a place in the knockout stages. Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to qualify for each of the last four World Cups after gaining independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, but they have consistently improved over the years. They finished second in their UEFA 2010 World Cup qualifying group and then lost a playoff to Portugal. This time around they finished atop their group, which also included World Cup qualifiers Greece, to earn a trip to Brazil for their first major tournament since competing as a part of Yugoslavia.
Despite their inexperience, this is not a team that's just happy to make the trip and go sight seeing. This is a talented squad that could realistically finish in the top two spots in Group F with Argentina, Nigeria and Iran. They have a mix of veteran and rising talent in Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic, defender and captain Emir Spahic of Bayer Leverkusen, Sead Kolasinac of Schalke, Roma midfielder Miralen Pjanic, Lazio's Senad Lulic, Stuttgart striker Vedad Ibisevic and top goal scorer Edin Dzeko of Man City, among others. Manager Safet Susic likes to make use of his attacking players and though he can also be pragmatic in his approach, he's not one to park the bus.
Though they've only been in a Brazil a couple of days, they've already endeared themselves to the locals. Football Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina president Elvedin Begic delivered gifts of scarves and shirts to the police stationed outside their hotel.
And while going for a morning run on the beach in Sao Paulo, they attracted a new mascot that has delighted Brazilian media — a stray dog who ran alongside them that has been brilliantly named "BosDog."(BosDog will have his own series of Disney films before the summer is over.)
So, in short, Bosnia and Herzegovina are like Tahiti, but better. And with BosDog now on board, they might be unstoppable.
- - - - - - -