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Can Blazevic work his magic for Bosnia?

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Phil Minshull | 09:30 UK time, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Is history about to repeat itself? Is Miroslav the Magician about to wave his wand again and guide another unheralded team, this time Bosnia-Hercegovina, through to the World Cup finals?

The bespectacled septuagenarian coach Miroslav Blazevic - born in Bosnia to a Croatian family in 1935, before what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map - has taken Bosnia to unprecedented heights in the past 16 months, and they are just one step away from booking their place in South Africa.

When the mildly eccentric Blazevic - widely known as Ciro - who went through most of the 1998 World Cup when he was in charge of Croatia wearing his lucky charm of a French policeman's hat, signed up for the job in July last year, it looked like being a poisoned chalice.

Most people, including myself, thought it was going to be his final job in the game, a position he'd only taken on because of his family history.

The previous Bosnia coach, the former Real Sociedad and Barcelona striker Meho Kodro, had just been fired after refusing to take charge of the team on a trip to Iran, and relations between the players and the federation were rocky, to say the least.

Edin Dzeko (right) and Miroslav Blazevic

However, Blazevic has used all his renowned diplomatic skills to smooth out the problems and got his players focused, with the target being qualification for the World Cup finals for the first time, just 17 years after Bosnian independence.

It's been no easy task for Blazevic.

Sticking to the football facts for the moment, the 26-man squad he called up last Thursday for the two World Cup play-off games against Portugal, firstly in Lisbon on Saturday and then back to Zenica the following Wednesday, takes in a Bosnian footballing diaspora who play in 13 different countries, with none of them actually at a Bosnian club.

Of course, ever since they secured a place in the play-offs, the world has been wanting to know just what the special ingredient Blazevic has provided that has turned Bosnia-Hercegovina into such a potent outfit over the last year. They won six of their last eight World Cup games to finish behind Spain in their group.

"The biggest point in our favour is our unity and determination as a team. We're a band of brothers, and we get along really well with one another," said Edin Dzeko, who plys his trade at German champions Wolfsburg and who is arguably one of Europe's top strikers on current form.

Reading between the lines, especially in the context of Bosnia's horrendous civil war in the 1990s, Blazevic has proved himself to be as much of a master at psychology as a football tactician. He has succeeded in bringing together players from disparate and potentially hostile ethnic backgrounds.

Having seen most of their recent matches because of being in the same group as Spain, albeit on television, I can attest to their team work and desire, that indefinable never-say-die attitude which is being broadly termed as 'unity'.

This a very similar story to when Blazevic was in charge of Croatia a decade ago, memorably steering them to an outstanding third place at the 1998 World Cup, and only going out to the hosts and eventual winners France in the semis after hammering the Germany of Klinsmann and Matthaus 3-0 in the quarter-finals.

And who knows what could have happened if Zvonimir Boban hadn't had a woeful off-day, or Goran Vlaovic hadn't his rasping potential equaliser just tipped over the bar by Fabien Barthez well into injury time.

Just like with Croatia, emerging from the smouldering embers of its own place in the
Balkan inferno of the early 1990s, the success of Blazevic's men has inevitably also been a tonic for the country, at home and abroad.

In contrast to many European countries where following a country to away fixtures in droves is generally not too popular or practical, as Lisbon will no doubt witness, Bosnia-Hercegovina have a loyal and noisy group of fans at every match.

The United Nations have estimated that during the civil war more than two million Bosnians were forced to flee their homes.

Many fled to other countries and there are now ex-patriot Bosnians spread right the way across Europe, perversely now providing the team with enthusiastic backing wherever they play.

"Never in my career have I had such a significant match in front of me. For us, there is big pressure, high expectations from the fans. We must not disappoint them," said Blazevic.

In contrast to Portugal, who have seemed racked with a lack of confidence throughout much of the qualifiers, Bosnia-Hercegovina seem to ooze self-belief despite some limitations to their talent at the back and with nine players on a yellow card.

"These are the kind of games in which you have to play above your limits if you want to win. Hence, I expect nothing less than maximum effort from each individual, and I don't expect any of them to have a psychological block over a yellow card, anyone who does will be written off for the national team," he added last week, brandishing both the whip and the carrot.

"We have to get a good result in Lisbon even if it means we are crippled in the return leg."

Shortening the odds of the Bosnian fairytale continuing, Portugal will probably be without Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, who is still suffering from an ankle injury despite Carlos Queiroz insisting on calling him up, a move which is widely suspected to have been designed to outrage Real president Florentino Perez who sacked him when the Portugal coach was in the Spanish capital.

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  • 1. At 10:37am on 10 Nov 2009, LABSAB9 wrote:

    Good blog Phil

    I agree with your comments in relation to the Croatia side they were some team but my overriding memory will always be of Bilic falling to the ground as if Blanc had hit him which resulted in him missing the final it was an absolute disgrace and that is why i am glad Bilic failed to lead Croatia to the World Cup in South Africa.

    I know it's a little off topic but there you go.

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  • 2. At 11:08am on 10 Nov 2009, shevabk2milan wrote:

    Blazevic was a great coach but It should be noted that Blažević made a critical coaching decision in that 1998 semi-final as he failed to insert his most talented player Robert Prosinečki when the game was in the balance at 1-1. Instead he opted for Silvio Marić (rubbish - remember his Newcastle days?) to replace the injured Boban after halftime and Croatia eventually lost the game 2-1. In the third-place match, Prosinečki started and immediately made his presence felt by scoring the first goal and delievering a wonderful defence splitting pass which resulted in Croatia's second goal. Prosinecki was world class, why would anyone fail to put him on the pitch?

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  • 3. At 11:37am on 10 Nov 2009, A Ryan wrote:

    Blažević is another example of how age is no factor when it comes to management. He's been managing for over 40 years now so surely his experience in the game gives him a serious advantage over younger coaches. What he has done with Bosnia is simply fantastic as they do not have any renowned global stars in their squad. They are however an example of great team ethic (similar to Greece in the 2004 Euros).

    I sincerely hope they manage to overcome Portugal in their upcoming two ties. For me the Portuguese team is flattering to deceive after their golden team has mostly retired. Relying on Ronaldo has put them into this position they now find themselves in. Hiring Carlos Queiroz was quite simply a mistake. There is no doubt he is an exceptional coach or assistant as Fergie has twice opted to bring him to Old Trafford. Nevertheless his managerial successes have been thin on the ground. He failed with Portugal in the early 90s, ruined Sporting Lisbon's hopes of almost guaranteed title success after Bobby Robson left. He got South Africa to the 2002 World Cup only to leave them in the lurch before the tournament began....and who can forget the disastrous reign as Real Madrid manager. What a debacle after the successes of his predecessor Del Bosque. So he ran back to Manchester were he is safely surrounded by Fergie's success.

    Anyway back to Blažević, good luck to him and his team....it'll be nice not to see some of the same old football powers at the World Cup next year. Refreshing to see North Korea, Bosnia (potentially), Chile (back from the dead), Slovakia and Honduras.

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  • 4. At 11:50am on 10 Nov 2009, john wrote:

    Does anybody know where Bosnia are listed in the FIFA rankings ? how high have they climbed ?

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  • 5. At 12:07pm on 10 Nov 2009, Goatee wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 6. At 12:46pm on 10 Nov 2009, pingo wrote:

    Croatia's success in 1998 had nothing to do with team work. They were an anarchic team which relied on spirit and the inspiration and talent of players such as Suker, Prosinecki and Boban

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  • 7. At 1:00pm on 10 Nov 2009, Muffin McLovin wrote:

    Anyone read the article in this month's FourFourTwo where Dzeko and Misimovic where hailing Blazevic on the way he has bought this Bosnian team together? I think it's fantastic, especially when there has been such terrible massacres of Bosniaks and yet the country is now united behind the team who with the likes of Dzeko, Misimovic and Pjanic have a great chance of going to South Africa.

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  • 8. At 1:04pm on 10 Nov 2009, generaltrout wrote:

    I think that Bosnia have a real chance of upsetting Portugal. They have been scoring plenty of goals in qualifying, are full of confidence and like a lot of the sides from the Balkans (Macedonia, Albania, Serbia) tend to play together, and for each other.
    As much as FIFA have tried to fix it so that all the big sides make SA I honestly believe that the WC will be better for the likes of Bosnia making the Finals. Pretty sure they do not have the outstanding quality that Boban, Prosinecki and company brought to Croatia but they would be a welcome addition to the competition in 2010.

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  • 9. At 1:09pm on 10 Nov 2009, yellowgreenred wrote:

    A refreshing piece of writing, nice to see some of the supposed lesser teams getting some exposure.

    Would love to see Bosnia-Hercegovina book their place in the finals and I think it can happen. Portugal in my eyes could never be considered serious contenders to win the world cup with or without Ronaldo.

    Completely agree with A Ryan, will be great to see some less obvious teams gracing the big stage next year, cant wait

    My four to go through from Europe: Greece, Bosnia, France, Russia

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  • 10. At 1:36pm on 10 Nov 2009, Walter wrote:

    #3. At 11:37am on 10 Nov 2009, A Ryan wrote:
    Anyway back to Blažević, good luck to him and his team....it'll be nice not to see some of the same old football powers at the World Cup next year. Refreshing to see North Korea, Bosnia (potentially), Chile (back from the dead), Slovakia and Honduras.
    ________________________________________________________________________


    Well said! I'm licking my lips to watch the likes of France, Portugal et al failing to qualify for the World Cup. I think FIFA will live to regret their ill-advised move to seed the play-offs. I can't recall any quarter final as pulsating as Romania Vs Bulgaria in the USA 94.

    Goodluck to Blažević, Trappatoni, and Renhagel

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  • 11. At 1:37pm on 10 Nov 2009, BigLRed wrote:

    Hi Phil,

    Ciro Blazevic has been a magician for years. I remember as a kid in Prishtina, Kosova, Ciro took over our team which was languishing in second tier football. He immediately got us promoted and then we were facing the all conquering Red Star (Crvena Zvezda) in Belgrade, Serbia. We won 3:1 and that result and performance will always remain with me for as long as I live.

    Ciro Majstore (Ciro the Master)

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  • 12. At 1:50pm on 10 Nov 2009, Deeosito wrote:

    I remember the summer of 1998 all too well. What a fantastic Croatian team that was. I do remember Croatia playing against Bosnia in the WC qualifiers too, beating them twice - what a change a little more than a decade can bring. Ciro was a hero but I do agree, Croatia's success had little to do with management, it was the spirit of the players at that time. The line-up reads like an all-time fantasy football team - just imagine if Boksic wouldn't have been insured, or better, if that stupid war would have never happened, i bet that an in-tact Yugoslavia football team would have won some more prizes in the 90's. That brings me to "Goatee's" comment earlier. Whereas I agree with your general comment about the historic aspect of the article, I do not agree with your rather anti-Croatian comments. An all Yugoslavian football team would have probably been reality (already at EC 1992) if Serbian aggression and ethnical cleansing across the region would not have started. After all atrocities and destruction, Bosnians deserve something positive. My sympathy belongs to you, Bosnia.

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  • 13. At 2:11pm on 10 Nov 2009, adversitystrikes wrote:

    Being born in Bosnia, and having both Croatian and Bosniak family I would be absolutely thrilled to see Bosnia make an impact on the World Cup like Croatia had done in 1998. Watching as a neutral is interesting, but nothing stirs the heart quite like seeing boys that come from nothing accomplish amazing things against the odds. There is a lot of talent across the former Yugoslavia (particularly in midfield), it would be good to see it showcased on a global stage, and our unique, technical/tactical footballing identity recognised.

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  • 14. At 2:17pm on 10 Nov 2009, Gino Magnacio wrote:

    I bet you would like that to happen, Portugal to miss the WC. We never asked to be seeded for the qualifiers, its unjust and political but its not our fault its Fifa's and unfortunately for Bosnia we already have a date with the England in the quarter finals and the english wouldn't wanna miss that.....again.

    Despite our very own "Shteve McLaren Queiroz" we should be able to make it. Because we are due a big match and on our day we can beat anyone and with style.

    To the author I don't like Queiroz, he doesn't have the character to stamp his mark on a team, He's far too cautious for the type of players we have and some of his selections are baffling but I think you went a bit too far on suggesting there was a kind of personal vendetta behind Ronaldo's call up, if I were him I would probably sue you for denigration of character or something similar

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  • 15. At 2:18pm on 10 Nov 2009, Spaced Invader wrote:

    May well be that this Bosnian team is a real dark horse for the next world cup, if the excellent management structure Blazevic has put in place is carried on - might just be a step to far for them to beat Portugal over 2 legs right now, but most of their finest players are strikingly young.

    No offence to Portugal (we all know it was not their connections that led to the disgraceful seeding decision for the play-offs), but I wish Bosnia, Ireland, Slovenia and Ukraine all the luck (and fair refereeing) in the world!!

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  • 16. At 2:20pm on 10 Nov 2009, Darren wrote:

    RE: 5. At 12:07pm on 10 Nov 2009, Goatee wrote:

    Goatee I suggest it is you who learns to read English before you start shooting your mouth off and telling people to learn history.

    You see the key word in the sentence below is BEFORE

    "born in Bosnia to a Croatian family in 1935, before what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map"

    So let me explain to you. The inclusion if the word BEFORE means that Blazevic was born BEFORE the formation of modern Yugoslavia.

    Yes BEFORE .....One more for good measure..... BEFORE what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map" .....GET IT??


    Other than reading the aformentioned idiotic riposte a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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  • 17. At 2:32pm on 10 Nov 2009, Ryan Robertson wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 3:06pm on 10 Nov 2009, Andy wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 19. At 3:07pm on 10 Nov 2009, Anders wrote:

    #10
    Well said! I'm licking my lips to watch the likes of France, Portugal et al failing to qualify for the World Cup. I think FIFA will live to regret their ill-advised move to seed the play-offs. I can't recall any quarter final as pulsating as Romania Vs Bulgaria in the USA 94.
    --------------------------------------------------------------------

    Romania lost to Sweden on penalties in the quarter final of USA 94. Bulgaria beat ze Germans in their QF.

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  • 20. At 3:11pm on 10 Nov 2009, scotsinhungary wrote:

    It's "plies" - not "plys" !

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  • 21. At 3:28pm on 10 Nov 2009, Steven Jones wrote:

    Very good article and like one reader said, some refreshing reading.

    Here's a little more background for anyone who is interested:

    http://www.worldfootballcolumns.com/2009/04/03/blazevic-unites-bosnia-with-belgian-double/

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  • 22. At 3:35pm on 10 Nov 2009, zelko wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 23. At 4:37pm on 10 Nov 2009, Dino wrote:

    Mr. Minshull, firstly, I would suggest you do the spell check before posting articles.
    Secondly, please stick to the football or, if you insist on flirting with historical facts, check your facts so you don't use your terms loosely, such as "civil war".
    Otherwise, nice article.

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  • 24. At 5:29pm on 10 Nov 2009, A Ryan wrote:

    Hey lets not all lose sight of what the main focus of this article is about - Miroslav Blažević and the Bosnian team. Maybe one or two of you are quibbling over historical dates and facts but remember that Bosnia reaching the World Cup would be a remarkable achievement!

    Yugoslavia was created as a result of WW1 and with Miroslav Blažević being born in the inter-war period (1935) he has to be considered a Bosnian Croat born in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

    In response to Ginomagnacio I am not anti-Portuguese but I do think teams should qualify on form alone and not from previous campaign performances or prestige. I was glad to see England fail to make the 2008 Euros because they weren't good enough. Our manager couldn't get the team to gel as we had very good individuals. Carlos Queiroz doesn't have the same quality of individuals at his disposal so you have to create a team ethic along the lines that Blažević has with the Bosnians. Portugal are certainly missing the likes of Figo, Paulo Sosa, Fernando Couto, Pauleta and Vítor Baía. Your glory days may be behind you until the next crop of talented players come through to help the talented Cristiano Ronaldo.

    Good luck to the underdogs of Bosnia, Slovenia and Ireland in the upcoming playoffs - after all it gives the so called bigger nations a reality check when they fail to qualify which in turn helps them to come back even stronger for the next tournament...football wins on all accounts.

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  • 25. At 6:34pm on 10 Nov 2009, A wet windy night in Stoke wrote:

    If only Zlatan Ibrahimovic chose to represent the country of his parents, Bosnia would have a realistic chance of making it to their first WC finals..

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  • 26. At 7:08pm on 10 Nov 2009, ForestForever wrote:

    Picking at one little spelling mistake shows that people on this website will try and pick at anything when it comes to the BBC Sport Blogs.

    Are you seriously telling me that you've never made a typo yourself and haven't noticed it when reading back through your work?

    As for the 'civil war' bit, I can't comment since I have no knowledge of the problems that blighted Bosnia. I regret being so ignorant on the matter, but I thoroughly enjoyed this blog entry.

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  • 27. At 7:15pm on 10 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 28. At 7:40pm on 10 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 29. At 8:03pm on 10 Nov 2009, Bosnian_Gunner wrote:

    As far as I understood this blog is about football, not about history nor politics, but since you already are off topic, let me clarify some things for you.

    First of all, the war in Bosnia was not a civil war, it was an aggression performed by two foreign countries, namely Serbia and Croatia.

    And the "[...]bringing together players from disparate and potentially hostile ethnic backgrounds." isn't really Ćiro's deed.
    In this case, there's no such thing at all. All those players come from Bosnia, they are Bosnians. They may be catholic, orthodox or muslim, but the all are Bosnians.

    Exactly that is the main problem in Bosnia, that some individuals falsely identify themselves with other countries. Catholic Bosnians tend to identify themselves with Croatia, orthodox with Serbia, and then muslims haven't got anything left except Bosnia, although there are some who identify themselves with Turkey, however this occurs too a much less extent than with the other two groups.
    But in fact they are all Bosnians, e.g. when bosnian catholics who see themselves as Croats go to Croatia, they are being called Bosnians...

    And until recent times, they have never been any conflicts among these three groups in Bosnia, but the problem is that this is easy to use against the country itself and, sadly, nowadays individuals tend to use it for their own gain.
    _________________________________________________________________________

    Now about football. Although I'm Bosnian and I'm heavily biased here, I must admit that "footbalistically" (Wenger invented this word) they are a much better team. The thing is that Ćiro is really great in man-management, and that psychological approach to the game, which is, I think, which is decisive in most cases. I do sport as well, and for me proper motivation is the most important thing.
    And the Portuguese already feel down cause they have to play the play-offs and they've lost their best player as well.
    To sum up - they're better, but the ball is round and the pitch is flat, so you never know...

    Yesterday I got up at six a.m. and waited for three hours to get my tickets for Zenica - and I did it. Hope it will be the best day of my life, as for hundreds of thousands of many other Bosnians.

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  • 30. At 8:38pm on 10 Nov 2009, Eliot wrote:

    I liked this article, for me brings back memories of the latvian qualifacation for the 2004 euros, where they beat turkey(3rd place at the 2002 world cup) in the playoffs. As much as it is an acheivement to have reached the playoffs it is imperative bosnia get a result in lisbon to stand any chance. If they take portugal to bosnia in a good position they can turn them over. As well as Dzeko, who was mentioned in the article, they have misimovic(also of vfl wolfsburg), vedad ibisevic of hoffenheim and Pjanic of Lyon, so they possess quite an erray of attacking talent. Would be great to see the football 'superpowers' fail to make SA, good luck Bosnia.

    Finally if only we could have seen a Yugoslavian team today... could have been world champions!

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  • 31. At 9:31pm on 10 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Bosnian_Gunner: when neighbours are shooting at each other that's a civil war no matter how you try and spin it. I understand why you feel you must spin it that way because to admit the truth would be to admit the country is a sham, an artifice held together by 10,000 nato peacekeepers and little else. And you can't re-write my identity or the identity of other croats and serbs in bosnia any more than we can re-write yours. I am what my father was, and his father's father before him and at no time did we ever call ourselves "bosnian" or "bosniak" or any other word you'd like me to use. A yorkeshirman in london might still be called a yorkeshireman but he's still english. Savo Milosevic was born in bosnia but is a serb, ciro blazevic is a croat, etc. etc. etc. I find it insulting that the BBC let's people like you just re-write out nationalities like it's no big thing. Clearly an agenda there.

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  • 32. At 9:39pm on 10 Nov 2009, VAL9 wrote:

    Incorrect to say 1935 was "before what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map". The territory was formed after the first world war as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and then formally renamed Yugoslavia in 1928.
    Good luck to Bosnia and Blazevic anyway!

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  • 33. At 9:48pm on 10 Nov 2009, gareth potter wrote:

    As an Englishman that lived and worked in over several years in Bosnia and being involved in football development out there.
    I am not surprised at with the growth of the Bosnian national team as the passion and love for the game is quite simply amazing.

    I would be as controverial as to say its got a greater passion for picking the ball up and playing with it than youths in the U.K. do today.


    With an estimated 4 million population and an amazing gulf between population and investment between the worlds leading football nations nations.

    It would be an amazing feat to even reach these finals and it would transcend above the recent years problems and put these guys on a platform that they deserve.

    A small country with a big heart with a bright future in football.

    What qualification would do for the people of Bosna i could not start to explain mainly it would bring pride in there nation starting to stand on its on feet.

    I can only wonder what the team could produce if Zlatan Ibrahimovic would of worn his home countries colours!

    Good luck boys!

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  • 34. At 9:51pm on 10 Nov 2009, grim_fandango wrote:

    I will be behind bosnia 100%, Portugal do not deserve to be at this world cup, the seeding of the playoffs is a joke and also as a Glasgow Rangers Fan, i would love to see Sasa Papac play for his country on the big stage in South Africa this summer. Good luck to the other underdogs in the playoffs too, especially Ireland, i think if they get there they have the players and the coach to do some damage.

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  • 35. At 9:58pm on 10 Nov 2009, myerla wrote:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A58554048

    sums up what i think will happen in the tie.

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  • 36. At 10:12pm on 10 Nov 2009, 1950 wrote:

    I for one am quite pleased Ronaldo isn't playing for us. For once we can concentrate on our team rather than Ronaldo. Yes he does bring extra quality, but when things aren't going right he gets frustrated and it influences that on the whole side, especially when he is wearing the armband, he is not captain material.

    As for our chances, I'm not sure. If I was Bosnia I would be quietly confident that they can get something over two legs, because you just never know with us.

    Carlos Queiroz being the manager and all just makes it more obvious that we may not be up to it this time... Even if we make it to the World Cup, then what?

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  • 37. At 10:42pm on 10 Nov 2009, Bosnian_Gunner wrote:

    @ nkosi: I'm not rewriting anyone's nationality, I'm just saying what the real facts are.
    Hopefully, there will come one day when for you and others alike one's nationality wont be important anymore, but more what's one like as a person. And that must happen one day, new, "healthy" generations will come, the old ones will vanish... :)
    Or, I hope there will be one day when people will be glad to be Bosnians, but that is less important than my other wish above.
    _________________________________________________________________________

    @ grim_fandago: Nice to hear we have the sympathies of so many people, thanks a lot to all of you. About Papac, unfortunately he wont be playing even if we qualify. Some time ago (sorry, really don't know when, 13 players from our national team signed a letter, in which they stated how they don't want to play for our national side anymore, not until all the criminals from our FA are removed. Saša is the only still active player who still sticks to that statement.

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  • 38. At 11:00pm on 10 Nov 2009, andythetoonfan wrote:

    I really think Bosnia will win this one,Portugal lack goals and base there whole game of Ronaldo who is injured or will not be at 100% if he does play,Bosnia however have a side full of goals in the form of two great strikers in Ibisevic and Dzeko,They also have two very creative players in the form of Pjanic and Misimovic,In the form of Spahic,Jahic and Damajanovic they also have an experienced backline incase there is any nervy moments,Infact now you have reminded me of it Phil i think i may stick a tenner on a Bosnia win

    Great blog by the way

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  • 39. At 11:36pm on 10 Nov 2009, Phil Minshull wrote:

    As always, many thanks to everyone who has taken the time to comment.

    Pingo said: “Croatia's success in 1998 had nothing to do with team work. They were an anarchic team which relied on spirit.” Looking back, I agree with the element of anarchy that pervaded the team at the time but it was Blazevic who managed to kindle the spirit and allowed the players to express themselves. Even though Bosnia-Herzegovina play in a way that is, in many respects, very different from Croatia in 1998, Blasevic is still the man who appears to be pushing all the right mental buttons.

    Before the weekend, I'm going to put my money where my mouth is. Like andythetoonfan, I have a feeling that a surprise could be in store, even in Lisbon. I've just had a quick look at a couple of web sites and most bookies have got Portugal to win by a goal or more on Saturday.

    John asked : “Does anybody know where Bosnia are listed in the FIFA rankings?” Well, Portugal are currently 10th and Bosnia-Herzegovina are 42nd. However, when Blazevic took over in July last year, they were ranked 74th. Regardless of what happens in the next week, he's had a big impact.

    There has also been some comments about my statement that Blazevic arrived on Earth, “before what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map.”

    I'm not going to get into a political discussion here, I'm not sure it's particularly relevant, but I do follow the view that is expressed in the time line that can be seen in the link below i.e. 'modern Yugoslavia' came into being in 1945.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/map/yugoslavia/

    I hope that clarifies why I used that particular phrase, with specific emphasis on the word 'modern'.

    PS1 Ryan Roberson commented: “off this topic but i was wondering in your opinion who got the best deal from the summer swap+cash of ibrahimovic and eto'o.” I'm not ducking this issue but saving it up for a later date. With Barcelona and Inter Milan both on top of their respective leagues, I think the jury is still out. Both men are having great seasons so far. I was at Barca v Mallorca on Saturday and remain very impressed with the way Ibrahimovic is performing for his new club. My only reservation is, was he worth €40 million more than Eto'o? I have my doubts.

    PS2 Yes I did make a bad typo. I put my hand up. For all those English teachers reading this blog, of course, the third person singular, present tense, of the verb 'to ply' is plies. I hang my head in shame... at least until 2045 GMT on Saturday when I'll be raising it to watch Portugal v Bosnia.

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  • 40. At 09:00am on 11 Nov 2009, Dino wrote:

    nkosi, what in the world are you talking about? are you another serb that is trying to turn all things into politics and play victim and complain about something that is a fact and you can not change? Get over it man. It must be hard to be you with such conflicting thoughts and ideas swirling inside your head. Sorry.

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  • 41. At 11:16am on 11 Nov 2009, Pavolk wrote:

    Great piece, Phil. This part of Europe is fascinating and it's good to hear about success stories there rather than about the political stalemates (and worse). Good luck to Bosnia against Portugal.
    Sorry to point out another typo, but I'm sure all those Bosnians plying their trade in other countries have not stopped being patriots, even though they are now expatriates.

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  • 42. At 11:36am on 11 Nov 2009, tomefccam wrote:

    Dzeko is one of the best out there lads, a real powerhouse striker who will score goals at whatever level

    "but he doesn't have pace" will probably be the stereotypical dumbfounded reposte to my point, well guess what...shearer didn't have great pace, nor did ruud van nistelrooy or gerd muller. but they were lethal finishers and great robust centre forwards. I think there is an over emphasis on pace, yes it helps, but the key is power and robustness. Stuart Barlow was lightening quick, they didn't come faster than dennis rommedahl.

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  • 43. At 12:20pm on 11 Nov 2009, Gino Magnacio wrote:




    In response toRyan

    You seem to have a very insular and limited knowledge of Football and you show it by comparing the quality of the individuals? Most of our first squad players are members of the top teams in Europe and most of the ones coming through will be in the future. Pepe, Carvalho, Bosingwa, Deco, Simao, Tiago... these players knocked your team out from your last 2 major competitions...we have Moutinho, Veloso, Roderick, Orlando Sa, Varela, Rolando, Coentrao, Carrico,Patricio,Joao Pereira you might not know them now but I'm pretty sure you will know most of them in the future.

    I'll tell you what we're missing a goalkeeper, a left back and a proper striker does that sound familiar?

    our results started improving once 'the golden generation' retired during and after the Euro in Portugal. Couto played only the first game, Sousa was already retired (retired very early in his career due to injury), Rui Costa only played a bit part in that Euro, Baia was never called up by Scolari, Pauleta was never a member of the 'golden generation' or even a top striker, of those you mentioned only Figo was truly important and kept playing for the team.

    Also if we qualify we qualify on form and by merit by beating our play off team. We were second in our group and our only fault was struggling to score, we were very very unfortunate vs Denmark in both games, very poor vs Albania in both games and Sweden defends very well and almost abdicated of attacking us in Portugal and in Sweden.

    To the Bosnian fans, I hope we get two very good matches and that you stay faithful to your attacking credentials in Zenica and in Lisbon. If we get knocked out, I will be supporting you the World Cup.

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  • 44. At 2:01pm on 11 Nov 2009, Torrente wrote:

    25. At 6:34pm on 10 Nov 2009, fabulousRedsReds wrote:

    If only Zlatan Ibrahimovic chose to represent the country of his parents, Bosnia would have a realistic chance of making it to their first WC finals..




    How do you mean country of his parents?

    If I remember his mother is a Croat from Croatia? So why would he choose BIH?

    But there's no need to argue about this one.. As we all know he was born in Sweden and he plays for Sweden..

    ..so- He's Swedish!


    And it's not Bosnia! It's Bosnia and HERCEGOVINA!

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  • 45. At 2:26pm on 11 Nov 2009, Ado wrote:

    I like your article. I do hope the Ciro's magic will work against Portugal. He has done so much for the national team, a great effort. The most important thing is that the national team is united. I'd like to see this extended so that players born in Bosnia-Herzegovina actually play for BiH and not for Croatia or Serbia. For example, there are 8 players who play for the Croatian national team: Vedran Corluka, Josip Sumunic, Mladen Bartulovic, Ivo Ilicevic, Nikica Jelavic, Dejan Lovern, Ivan Rakitic and Mladen Petric.
    There are 3 players who play for the Serbian national team: Neven Subotic, Zdravko Kuzmanovic and Mladen Krstajic

    Just imagine the strength of the Bosnian team if they all were available to Ciro Blazevic.



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  • 46. At 2:30pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Deeosito: I have complained to the BBC twice about your posting and twice they have refused to do anything about your defamation of the Serbian people people, probably because they have a policy of fostering anti-Serb propaganda: specifically that the Balkan wars were only the fault of the Serbian people and only non-Serbs suffered or were driven from their homes, at the hands of the Serbian people. The facts on the ground are that no nation has more refugees than the Serbs and most have not been allowed to return home thanks to the rasict and fascist policies of sucessive croatian and b-h governments. You would not make comments about "Jews" the way you and this website make comments about Serbs, even in the context of discussing Palestine (you'd be careful to use the label "Israelis"). You would not say "the Germans" but would use the phrase "the nazis" when talking about WWWII, so what gives you the right to malign "the Serbs"? If you want to talk football then talk football but leave the Serbs-bashing out.

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  • 47. At 2:40pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Bosnian_gunner: gee, you're not dictating my nationality but to you I'm just a Bosnian? According to the decision of the constitutional court of the protectorate of B-H, as determined by the foreigners who make up the court, Croats, Serbs and B-H Muslims (aka Bosniaks) are constituent nationalities of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Therefore any attempt to re-write my nationality as something else is a contravention of my human rights and the highest law of the land you claim as your own. 15 years later Republika Srpska is still going strong and closer to independence than ever thanks to the Kosovo precedent. When we get our independence we'd be happy to play a friendly against your bosnians. :) You know, that's a match I would not mind losing.

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  • 48. At 2:43pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Ado: the players you mention are all available to Ciro, nothing prevents them from playing for Ciro except their own desire to play for their own nation.

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  • 49. At 3:01pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    PHIL: "I'm not going to get into a political discussion here, I'm not sure it's particularly relevant, but I do follow the view that is expressed in the time line that can be seen in the link below i.e. 'modern Yugoslavia' came into being in 1945."

    First, you created a political discussion with your comments so acting like you're above discussing the fallout is a bit rich. As omnipotent as you people think you are, the BBC and its mapping department does not have the power to re-write history. And you did not say anything quite as innocent as gee, modern yugoslavia only came into being after Ciro was born (and why that is relevant to your article is beyond me), you said "before what became modern Yugoslavia was even on the map " i.e. that he was born before WHAT BECAME modern yugoslavia was even on any map... yet clearly WHAT BECAME modern yugoslavia was already on the map and was also called YUGOSLAVIA.

    As for its relevance, that's what I want to know: why was it necessary to malign yuglosavs and denigrate their history in order to write about Blazevic? Bit of bad habit left over from "colonial power" days? Or are you just a terrible excuse for a journalist?

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  • 50. At 3:16pm on 11 Nov 2009, Uldus66 wrote:

    Alone with Dzeko, Ibisevic, Misimovic can Blasevic build on three of the actual topplayers of the German Bundesliga.
    So, remember the class of the Danish teams in the past when they were providing the topplayers of the european leagues? But finally it was their committment that brought them up the European throne.
    I believe Mr. Minshull has not exaggerated, when putting Bosnia onto the list of the to-be suprise-teams of 2010, because of Blasevic forming a unity out of an anarchic Balkan-assembly.

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  • 51. At 3:28pm on 11 Nov 2009, Dino wrote:

    NKOSI: You are unbelievable, do you know that?! Please read posts from the beginning. You will note that you are the first person who struck up all this politics talk. Do yourself and everyone else a favor, specially do a favor to your own people, the Serbs, and get over it. You are just enhancing the stereotype of a typical, politics obsessed, Serb or whatever you are. Call yourself Indonesian or Australian if you wish, I doubt that anyone here cares. An no it was not Phil who started the political debate since mentioning political facts isn't the debate. It was you who initiated it. No surpise there. You are just embarrassing yourself. Again, it must be so hard to be you.

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  • 52. At 3:34pm on 11 Nov 2009, Ado wrote:

    nkosi: If you live in Bosnia-Herzegovina and have Bosnian citizenship therefore your nationality is Bosnian regardless of your ethinc origin. Some people still seem bogged down with nationalistic views. Very sad.

    This post is about football and about the success of the Bosnia-Herzegovina team. I wish to see Bosnia-Herzegovina competing in South Africa :) Go, go BiH!

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  • 53. At 5:24pm on 11 Nov 2009, Richard Carlton wrote:

    Blazevic (a Bosnian Catholic or, if we must, 'Bosnian Croat', but not someone born in Bosnia to Croatian parents, as mentioned in the main blog) must be a genius, whatever his age (he says 72 but other evidence suggests 75 or 77). In 1998, despite not using Prosinečki, he was only defeated by the only two goals Tourin ever scored for France, and now he's taken a side which just over a year ago was shambolic to the verge of the world cup. What makes it even more amazing is that out of Bosnia's small (4 million plus) population, most support other national teams (Serbia and Croatia) and won't play for the Bosnian national team, which is why the team is about three quarters Muslim. Bizarrely - given the history of Bosnia - Dodik, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, is said to have been supporting Turkey against Bosnia in the group stages. This is also partly why Supic and other non-Muslims in the team are considered heros for rising above petty nationalism. Bosnian quaification for the world cup would be fantastic for the health of the nation and I hope it happens.

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  • 54. At 5:38pm on 11 Nov 2009, Stokerambo wrote:

    I really hope Bosnia qualify.
    1. If they do manage to beat Portugal, they will have shown sufficient quality to contribute to the World Cup (there are enough 'novelty nations' as it is)

    2. It would be amusing to see Ronaldo cry at the prospect of not going to the World Cup.

    3. Always nice to see debutants at the World Cup and not just the old order - provided they contribute to the tournament and cause a few upsets.

    4. Yes, it would give the torn nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina some much needed pride. Sadly, most players from Republika Srbska and (Croatian) Herzegovina choose to represent Serbia and Croatia respectively. This may now change with Blazevic - a Croat - as coach. Hopefully this will be his legacy, the unification of Bosnia in sport.

    5. Off-topic, but I really hope North Korea get drawn against the USA and thrash them 5-0.

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  • 55. At 6:20pm on 11 Nov 2009, Bosniak4ever wrote:

    It is very interesting how much you can learn from starngers about yourself. It seems like some foreigners know more about me and my country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, than myself and others living there. They know everything from history and what really happend to laws, rules, regulations...etc. Very wide spectrum of expertise, I must say.

    Zlatan Ibrahimovic is not Bosnian because he was born in Sweden but Ciro Blazevic is Croat even he was born in Bosnian city of Travnik.

    As far as making a parallel between Kosovo and Serbian Republic of Bosnia is ridicules. Kosovo is made of 95% of Kosovars or Albanians who were heavilly repressed for years under Serbian rule, while Serbian Republic was ethicly cleaned from non-Serbs only because SOME Serbs didn't want to live together with others. They were always equal with others in Bosnia and after all, they are still equal.

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  • 56. At 10:14pm on 11 Nov 2009, Torrente wrote:

    @ Bosniak4ever



    Ćiro Blažević speaks Croatian, he lives in Croatia, was born in Croatian part of BIH...

    Ibrahimović?? He only curses on Croatian/Serbian language, NOT Bosnian 'cause that language doesn't exist at all..


    Now do you see the difference?

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  • 57. At 10:29pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    ado: like most of republika srpska I have a serbian passport because I want one and a b-h passport because I'm forced to have one. Many of the people in the federation part of b-h also carry croatian passports. It is a pity they did not play the match in Banja Luka or Bjeljina or Srbinje, it would have been like a home match for Portugal :) Still, I don't really care who wins as long as this nonsense about "unity" is put in its proper perspective. B-H is as divided as ever and we want our independence even more than the Albanians in Kosovo want theirs.

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  • 58. At 10:37pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Bosniak4Ever: always equal? even under the ottomans? Equal would be letting me have the same right to self-determination you had in seceding from yugoslavia. If multi-ethnic state with serb majority was not OK for you, why should it be OK for me with muslim majority? You don't like my people so I don't like yours either, fair is fair. Sarajevo is not what it was 20 years ago, more like Tehran every day. Let us go our own way and we too will hire ciro or somebody to coach us to wc play-offs and the bbc can write nice feel good story about nonsense, yes?

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  • 59. At 10:48pm on 11 Nov 2009, nkosi wrote:

    Richard Carlton: which nation would it be good for, the Croats, the Serbs or the Bosniaks (formerly knows as Bosnian Muslims until the word 'Bosniak' was invented by an American PR firm hired by the Pentagon and introduced into the english lexicon just before Dayton)? Even the constitutional court of B-H has ruled that there are no ethnic minorities in B-H but 3 constituent peoples? If 2 of those peoples don't want to be ruled by the third, how does qualification help those peoples? Or should they continue to suffer because clueless westerners thing it would be "good for them" to just shut up and support this farce your governments have created? If winning this match will bring such peace and prosperity I'm surprised you haven't paid the officials to have it rigged. Would be small price to pay, no? Go Portugal, bring us freedom from this oppression.

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  • 60. At 10:22am on 12 Nov 2009, A Ryan wrote:

    I’m afraid I will have to respond to Ginomagnacio’s comments as it is vastly unfair to suggest that I have a limited knowledge of football. Whilst I don’t claim to be a scholar or expert on the subject (like himself obviously), I have the opinion that everyone is entitled to their opinion on an open forum such as this.

    Yes you do have a handful of good footballers such as Pepe (Real Madrid) and Bosingwa (Chelsea). However they cannot be put into the same world class category as Cristiano Ronaldo. Unfortunately, like Arsenal FC and Thierry Henry in the 2005/2006 season, Portugal are quickly becoming a one man team as they’re heavily relying on Ronaldo to produce the goods and get them through matches. I would also agree that these players did knock out England in the last two tournaments that England were involved in but that was nearly 4 and 6 years ago now….these players are seriously ageing and therefore will have less impact on the next tournament.

    I would also agree that you have some promising individuals coming through but again I must add nobody in the world class bracket like Ronaldo. Moutinho is probably the most talented of the next crop but I would argue that none of the aforementioned players match the class or recognised potential of the ‘golden generation’ of the 90s. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong however and I hope I am because it would be great to see Portugal playing the attractive free flowing football they used to play during the 90s that gave them the label of the European Brazilians.

    One comment that did disappoint me was the one about Pauleta. Maybe he wasn’t part of the ‘golden generation’, however he was a top striker and you severely miss him now. After all he is Portugal’s all-time leading goal scorer with 47 goals in 88 matches; nearly a goal every other game. He also played at four major tournaments and helped Portugal to knock England out twice as you previously mentioned. Therefore to disregard his input on the Portuguese national team would be completely misguided.

    Indeed if you qualify then you’ll deserve to be at the tournament. Nevertheless your form has been poor under Carlos Queiroz and like Ultras said even if you do managed to scrape through (which I hope doesn’t happen) then your performances under him will not improve at the World Cup tournament.

    One last thing….you seem to suggest that England have a problem at left back? I was unaware of this problem as we have both Ashley Cole and Wayne Bridge. You may be confusing it with our left wing where we have had a problem for over a decade now. I also think we have adequate strikers, with Rooney coming under the world class bracket. We do however, like yourselves, need to find a confident and commanding goalkeeper who is under the 35 from somewhere. I think maybe you should look closer to home the next time you accuse someone of having an insular or limited knowledge of football.

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  • 61. At 10:45am on 12 Nov 2009, Ado wrote:

    nkosi: You have a Bosnian passport therefore you are a Bosnian. Simple innit, hehe.

    Also, you keep imposing your nationalistic agenda in a football related post. LEAVE US ALONE, SPARE US OF YOUR NATIONALISTIC VIEWS. We want to discuss the beautifull game and talk about the succes of the Bosnia-Herzegovina football team. Just one more day to go before the first leg.

    I would like to say one more thing about the game in Lisbon. The Portugese FA decided to charge Bosnian supporters 25 Euros per ticket while the tickets for the home supporters in the same sector are only 10 Euros. This is against the FIFA rules and Bosnian suporters have made a claim with FIFA and if the money is refunded it will be donated for Bosnian children in need. Shame on the Portugese FA.






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  • 62. At 1:46pm on 12 Nov 2009, tomefccam wrote:

    #60 - Pauleta, you couldn't be more wrong, you could try but you would be unsuccessful. A distinctly poor player who always scored an average amount of goals domestically for average clubs (barring deportivo with whom he performed poorly) and did nothing on the europeon competition scene. Yes an impressive strike rate at international level, but not many of these were against fifa ranked top 20 sides.

    Crouch has a great international strike rate, another poor player.

    Pauleta's international success surely comes from the fact that he had an amazing team of players around him supplying the ammunition. Akin to Andy Cole when he was at man utd

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  • 63. At 5:02pm on 14 Nov 2009, BakerStreetIrregular wrote:

    I am from Serbia and I would LOVE Bosnia to win! They deserve it! As neighbours, we should put our differences aside (because there are far too many more similarities) and root for each other. I am also sad that Croatia didn't manage to qualify and would like to see Slovenia move through as well. Imagine what it would have been like if we had Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia in the quarter finals!!! Ok, this is daydreaming, I know, but still it feels sweet.

    I am not alone in this. Most Serbs are today rooting for Bosnia, although there are some who won't admit it! Go Bosnia! You can do it and your neighbours are cheering you on!

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  • 64. At 11:01pm on 18 Nov 2009, I am not a number wrote:

    "Can Blazevic work his magic for Bosnia?"

    And the answer is: no. Shame that we won't to see them in the world cup. :(

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