Pulling Rabbits Out of Hats
In the build-up to our showdown against Portugal, most of the international attention on Bosnia’s roster is focused on the usual suspects: Džeko, Misimović, Pjanić and Ibišević (and roughly in that order too). But for me the most interesting players are two new additions to the roster, who have thus far been largely ignored outside of Balkan sports portals. U21 star Ermin Zec, whose surname literally means rabbit or hare, will finally have a chance to show of his pace with the A-team, after already making a name (and all-too-obvious nickname) for himself in the Croatian HNL. The more controversial newcomer Haris Medunjanin, on the other hand, is a long-lost son who has already been labeled everything from “Medo” (bear) to “Mudonja” (I’ll leave that untranslated). Neither are expected to crack the starting line-up in such a critical match, but both are lethal offensive weapons that could provide a real spark off the bench.
At 21, Ermin Zec is definitely one of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s brightest talents. He was born in the central-Bosnian town of Bugojno, whose local NK Iskra had a fine history in Yugoslavia’s lower leagues and continues to produce notable talents to this day. Zec first emerged as a hot commodity after scoring not one but several bicycle kicks in the Bosnian second division, but was foolishly snubbed by both Sarajevo and Željezničar. He fled across the border to HNK Šibenik, where he has since made a name for himself as one of Croatia’s premier goalscorers. Šibenik is the surprise package of the HNL this season, breathing down Dinamo’s neck, and Zec is perhaps the main reason why. Manager Branko Karačić considers his starlet the best player in Croatia right now, and Zec certainly has been in top form, scoring left and right lately (see his nice strike against Hajduk below). Along the way he’s attracted the attention of a number of Bundesliga clubs, and it’s only a question of time before he takes the next step in his career. With Zlatan Muslimović back in shape, I’m not banking on seeing Zec in the play-off duel, but he certainly has a place in the wider squad.
Haris Medunjanin has a somewhat different life story. Born and raised in Sarajevo’s (in)famous commieblock neighborhood of Ali-pašino polje, he left the country in the wake of the war for Western Europe, re-emerging at age 19 as the best young footballer in the Netherlands. He was part of the Dutch U21 team that achieved such notable success mid-decade, and earned the wrath of many Bosnian fans after apparently rejecting a call up to the Bosnia squad. What exactly happened is unclear, although with the kind of people running things in the FA at the time it seems clear Medunjanin deserves at least the benefit of the doubt. His career has never quite taken off as some might have hoped (allegedly lagging due to attitude problems), but somehow he still found his way to the Spanish La Liga. Playing semi-regularly for Valladolid, he’s currently the only Bosnian in perhaps the best league in the world. Oh, and has been on absolute fire and seemingly incapable of scoring an average goal. Blessed with a fantastic technique and a wicked left foot (not unlike his former neighbor at Ali-pašino and childhood idol, Elvir Baljić), Medunjanin has scored two fantastic goals in just the last week or so. I’ve included some youtube highlights of him below, not including either of these two recent strikes. To put it simply, I expect Haris to see some playing time as a substitute in these two games and I’m excited to see what he can do.
Hey Harun. These updates on the Bosnian team really are top notch. I am really hoping they can pull of this miracle, slightly because i have money of them reaching the last 16, but mostly because a country I really like has such an exciting group of players. I don’t know how the people in Bosnia feel about the sucess though. Would Bosnian Croats rather see Croatia suceeding, and the same Bosnian Serbs?
I see Velez Mostar are doing a lot better this season. Do you think they can put togethor a genuine challenge this year, or at least finish ahead of Zrinjski?
Posted from United Kingdom
Hey Dave. Thanks for the questions and the kind words – I’m glad non-Bosnians find the blog interesting as well. The first one is difficult to answer though. The foreign media have portrayed our qualifying run as if it’s suddenly united the entire country in footballing ecstasy, while others will assure you that Bosnian Serbs and Croats would sooner root for Zimbabwe than the Bosnian national team. The truth is somewhere in between.
The bulk of Bosnia’s most passionate supporters are Bosniaks (i.e. Bosnian Muslims) – there’s no denying that – and it’s safe to say that the majority of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs support Croatia or Serbia respectively. But then support of Bosnia and Croatia/Serbia is not mutually exclusive, and 1/3 of the TV sets in Banja Luka (the capital of the Bosnian Serb entity) were tuned in to the recent game against Spain. It’s impossible to say without opinion polling, but my educated guess is that the majority of the country is fully behind the team and perhaps even a vast majority support it at least tacitly. There are certainly notable pockets of Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs that are hostile to the Bosnian national team, but it seems clear to me that they’re a (very vocal) minority.
As for Velez, they’ve brought in some great young players over the summer transfer window and have a great foundation for future success. I’m not sure that they’ll win the title, but I am expecting them to finish ahead of Zrinjski and manage a continental qualifying spot. Hope that answers your questions.
Posted from United States
I have my fingers crossed for Portugal. Please for the love of the worldcupblog website don’t spread wrong infos related to serbs and croats that are cheering for your team. I can name no Serb nor Croat I know that will cheer for Bosnia. Sorry, but thats the way how the things work here
And lol we are not minority here. Muslim Bosnians are. Thats why they are avoiding , dunno how to pronunce in english, the list of all citizens of bosnia, cause most of the muslims left the country during the war so they are leeching out other countries that are economically wise on good position majorly Germany.
Hi there Harun,
excellent blog, very well written and highly informative, especially since it is quite difficult to find regularly updated English-language info on Balkan football never mind Bosnian!
I really hope Bosnia defeat Portugal and qualify – it would be a major event for the country as a whole; dare i say it but Bosnia needs to qualify a lot more than Portugal does – not just for footballing reasons I think you will agree. Qualification may have a great uniting effect on the country – then again, maybe it wont, what with Serbia qualifying with such ease and giving those in the RS someone else to cheer!
As an Irishman I understand somewhat the problems of disunity and civil conflict within a country and I have seen what sport can do as a uniting force. With players like Misimovic now playing for BiH, surely those barriers must be beginning to break down within the sporting world at least? Stefan, a Bosnian Serb/Croat (I dont know) seems to think not and who knows, he may be right.
But lets hope not. Bosnia does not need people like that.
This is not a political forum so, sorry! Back to football: I think Bosnia have a seriously strong squad, more than capable of troubling Portugal this weekend. Queiroz is a man under pressure, Ronaldo is not playing, their not-so-amazing defence is up against one of the best young talents in Europe in Edin Dzeko (sorry Harun!) and, well, everything points to an extremely close match. This Bosnia squad, while perhaps not as recognisably strong as Portugal’s, is more than capable of causing what would in all honesty be an upset.
My money is going on Bosnia, though perhaps only through an away goal.
Best of luck to BiH from Irska.
Posted from Ireland
Thanks Luke. With Ronaldo and Bosingwa both out, I don’t find Portugal particularly more threatening than Turkey, and so I do think we have a decent shot at causing an upset (provided there are no surprise injuries and the atmosphere doesn’t suddenly turn sour). For what it’s worth, I’m definitely rooting for you against France as well.
And as for the politics, I think it’d be best to nip that in the bud now before things spiral out of control. Football in the Balkans is intricately connected to the political situation and society at large, and I realize that a lot of people are interested in that. Unfortunately, touch on it too much and you get characters like Stefan (i.e. self-appointed internet spokesmen for the Serb nation) crawling out from under the woodwork. Maybe I made a mistake in writing that earlier comment, but, as you mentioned, this isn’t a political forum and I won’t let it become one. Just a heads up to any future would-be provocateurs: from now on I’ll be deleting any explicitly political comments, so stick to the football.
You’re dead right Harun.
There’s an interesting interview with Dzeko on the BBC sport website today and he seems relatively confident. I think a lot of people are beginning to see Bosnia as a major threat to Portugal. Not many have much faith in them without Ronaldo; although, admittedly, he is not the same force as he is at club level for some reason. I would be almost certain that Bosnia will beat Portugal in Bosnia; for me, the question is whether they have what it takes to get a result in Portugal. I think yes.
Another plus is a kind of “mystery” factor that surrounds the Bosnia team. Not many teams have played them before and there is something of a mystique that surrounds both the country and the team, so this may go some way to striking a touch of fear into the hearts of the slightly weak-willed Portuguese.
Posted from Ireland
Thanks for your reply Harun. I really enjoy this blog and thanks for those answers. Good to here you think Velez are in with a shout this year! And I agree with you and luke, this should be about the football.
I think I speak for most football fans when I say Bosnia’s attacking players would be much more fun to watch that say Greece or Ukraine, they are the kind of team that could put 5 past anyone on there day, even if they could easily concede four in the process. Plus I put a tenner on them getting to the last 16 when i got back from the country last year. Fingers Crossed!
Posted from United Kingdom
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