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Second Teams: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Editor’s note: This is the latest piece in PSP’s World Cup series, in which PSP’s writers and a few honored guests make the case for which team you should root for in the World Cup after the United States. Read the full series here.

The signs of war linger. You see them in the villages and the city.

The sounds of war echo in memory. They reverberate through people’s stories and recollections, spoken or silent.

History is stacked against them.

The present isn’t too great either.

You’re American. You should root for the little guy. It’s hard-wired into your sports genes.

Meet David. Or at least, one of the Davids.

You understand these sorts of things instinctively.

Your head tells you various things. Your gut tells you one thing.

Everyone deserves happiness sometimes.

It is often easier to divide than unite. Not always, but often. Humans, blessed with free will, don’t always agree.

So many things divide human beings. Ethnicity, gender, religion, geography, material goods. We fight wars over things big and small. We fight, and we kill, and we do it over and over again.

But what about the things that can bring us together?

Bosnia and Herzegovina crestNot like blind lemmings, following charismatic leaders who appeal to base nationalism, xenophobia, and conformity.

I mean the good things, the simple ones.

Children’s laughter. A good meal. Fresh air. And sports.


Now we come to Bosnia and Herzegovina, for whom the World Cup can be so much more than for any other nation.

Twenty years ago, they fought a war in these Balkan lands that wiped out thousands.

Over what? (Does it even matter? It’s war.)

Age-old ethnic and religious divisions reemerged in the wake of Yugoslavia’s collapse and tore apart the region, which had been multiethnic since the Ottoman Empire’s reign, comprised of a triumvirate of ethnic/religious groups: Catholic Croats, Muslim Bosniaks, and Orthodox Croats.

After a few years of war, the divisions remained, but a whole lot more people were dead. Without turning this into a history lesson or rehashing the conflict, it’s enough to say that the war ravaged the countries and tore families apart.

Where people went, soccer followed. Refugees fled the region to parts throughout the world, including places like St. Louis, where a large Bosnian population remains.

Today, some of those refugees play for the Bosnian national soccer team.

This year marks the first time that a team solely from Bosnia and Herzegovina will play in the World Cup.

The multiethnic national team’s qualification for the World Cup set off historic celebrations last year in Sarajevo. As The Guardian newspaper wrote after Bosnia’s qualification:

“It will go down as probably the most joyful moment in the chronically divided country of Bosnia-Herzegovina in almost two decades, as qualification for next year’s World Cup triggered ecstatic all-night celebrations on the streets of the capital and other cities.

“For a day or two at least, the ethnic frictions and political dysfunction dissolved in an outpouring of pride. Adnan Hadzic, on the streets until the small hours, said it was the happiest night of his life. ‘I have never felt like this. It’s magical … there are no words. After all the mess we see every day, we need this happiness,’ he said.”

Now imagine what a deep World Cup run would do for this country.

Can sports heal old wounds? No. The scars always remain.

But they can help us to forget. To come together and celebrate — together.

Bosniak, Serb, Croat — They will all root for their country in the World Cup. Some may be slow to the partyRepublika Srpska, I’m looking at you — but they’ll get there eventually.

You should join them. If you were to pick any team after the United States to root for, then Bosnia is the one.

Bosnia needs this happiness. Their soccer team can give it to them.


  1. And if all the points above aren’t good enough, they can play some really fun soccer to watch (assuming the little piece of the Bosnia-Mexico friendly I saw was an accurate sample).

  2. OneManWolfpack says:

    Finally a second team I can get behind!

  3. dean auld says:

    Im from northern ireland and I will be supporting bosnia herzegovina in the world cup.there a under dog but they are capable of going far with there team.there a big dark horse in my eyes-good look and dzeko and that lad hajrovic will produce the goods

  4. old soccer coach says:

    Excellent piece, Dan Walsh. One historical quibble: the ethnic diversity of the old Roman Empire province of Illyria pre-dates the Ottoman Empire.

    • Oh, not doubting that. I was referring to the interesting way that the Ottomans treated religious/ethnic distinctions within the empire, particularly in the Balkans. I yield to others’ greater knowledge on the pre-Ottoman history of the region.

  5. Also, Miralem Pjanic.

  6. Dan, I always love your articles and this Second Team series has been fantastic, but I gotta ask: considering the Union’s history and former (and current) player connections…when’s the piece on Colombia coming out?

    • Dan Walsh says:

      Tom! Hey former CB partner. Believe it or not … I am ashamed to say … we … do not have one. We have one writer who was torn between Australia and Colombia, and in a moment of forgetfulness, I veered him toward Australia. It sounded like he had a great Australia column just waiting to happen. But I should have remembered Valdes and Mondragon.
      Alas, there’s still time for a guest writer who feels he/she could pull it off! Email me at dwalsh@phillysoccerpage.com if interested. The series wraps up early next week because we unexpectedly got more people interested.

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