Football in Bosnia and Herzegovina can face the future with optimism. Progress is being made on and off the field in this new state which emerged from the end of old political and geographical structures in the region.
The game reached Bosnia and Herzegovina at the start of the 20th century, with Mostar the first city to embrace it in 1905. Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica and Bihac were next along with numerous smaller towns as the sport spread. The country was under Austro-Hungarian rule when official competition began in 1908, though these activities were on a small scale within each territory. At the outbreak of World War One, there were four clubs in Sarajevo and approximately 20 outside the capital. The creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia post 1918 brought an increase in the number of leagues, and soon a domestic national championship was organised featuring two teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The unified championship ran until 1939/40.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation (Nogometni/Fudbalski Savez Bosne i Hercegovine – NFSBiH) was founded after the Second World War, being affiliated to the Yugoslav Football Association (FSJ). Bosnia and Herzegovina's best sides played in the Yugoslavian first, second and third divisions with moderate success. FK Sarajevo won Yugoslavian championships in 1967 and 1985, NK Željeznicar in 1972. Moreover, FK Velez (1981 and 1986) and Borac Banja Luka (1988) lifted the Yugoslavian Cup. Bosnian clubs impressed in Europe too, with Željeznicar being 1984/85 UEFA Cup semi-finalists. Željeznicar's exploits underlined the local game's strength, as more than 900 clubs were now associated to the NFSBiH.
Following independence in 1992, the NFSBiH sought membership of football's governing bodies. With the country ravaged by war, though, Bosnia and Herzegovina was only accepted by FIFA in 1996 and by UEFA in 1998. During this period, a championship was played between clubs affiliated to the NFSBiH and the separate Herceg Bosna Football Federation, and won by Željeznicar in 1998.
Due to political divisions, the Football Association of Republika Srpska (FA RS) – the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina – had declined to participate in the national championship. Football was finally united on 23 May 2002 after the FA RS general assembly adopted the FA RS statutes in accordance with the NFSBiH and FIFA as well as UEFA statutory provisions. Furthermore, they agreed to a common domestic championship for the whole territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002/03 – a 20-team division comprising 12 sides from the old top flight, the first division winners and runners-up, and six clubs from the FA RS. FK Leotar were inaugural champions.
The national team showed similar togetherness in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying. Had Bosnia and Herzegovina beaten Denmark in their final match they would have qualified, yet a 1-1 draw took the Danes through. The team have also excelled in FIFA World Cup action. They finished third in their qualification section for the 2006 finals after losing two of ten games. Then only a narrow play-off defeat by Portugal denied them a trip to South Africa 2010 after Bosnia and Herzegovina came second behind Spain in their group. UEFA EURO 2012 brought further heartache, with Portugal again blocking their route to a first major tournament in the play-offs – after Safet Sušić’s side had run France extremely close for an automatic qualifying berth.
The NFSBiH has also raised its profile by staging qualifying matches and mini-tournaments for UEFA's Under-17 and U19 competitions – men's and women's. The national U21 team suffered similar heartache to the seniors when losing a qualifying play-off for their 2007 UEFA European Championship. However, standards continue to rise. The NFSBiH statutes were officially rubber-stamped by FIFA and UEFA in 2006. FK Sarajevo got as far as the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in 2007/08. Plans are in place for a new NFSBiH training base in Zenica while, by 2008, some 40 mini-pitches had been built with assistance from UEFA's HatTrick scheme.
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