The local league is making sacrifices to help Bosnia and Herzegovina's 2014 FIFA World Cup finals push, but changes to the calendar have only served to intensify the excitement.
Normally, the autumn campaign would be over after 15 games. However, with the Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation (NFSBiH) eager to get the season over with by 15 May in order to give the Dragons as much time as possible to prepare for their first final tournament, this season's winter break will not come until 30 November, after the 19th round of fixtures.
After 13 games, FK Borac Banja Luka are top of the standings, two points clear of FK Sarajevo, with HŠK Zrinjski, reigning champions FK Željezničar, FK Olimpik Sarajevo and NK Široki Brijeg still in touch with the leading pack. In the most recent round of fixtures, Borac lost 1-0 at FK Zvijezda, and Sarajevo were 2-0 winners at struggling FK Vitez.
Title winners in 2010/11, Borac – literally 'fighter' – know they are in for a battle if they are to get the crown back, with their 50-year-old coach Dragan Jović hoping his side can handle the pressure. "It has been a very interesting footballing autumn," he said. "We are currently top but winning the championship is tough, though we have the power to make it to the end in first place."
If Borac are to hang on, much will hinge on the form of capital rivals Sarajevo and Željezničar, who meet in the 102nd city derby game in the next round of fixtures. Both sides are currently drawing 30-30 in terms of derby wins, with 41 games drawn. This will be a big occasion for the Railwaymen, whose successful coach Amar Osim handed over the reins to his assistant Hajrudin Djurbuzović at the start of the season.
"It is not easy to replace Amar Osim, but Željeznicar as a club have to fight to defend the championship," said the 57-year-old Djurbuzović. "We will know a lot about where we stand after the big derby." Sarajevo coach Husref Musemić, meanwhile, is determined that their neighbours from the Grbavica district will head home empty handed. "We're playing well, but it will be hard against Željezničar. We have the strength and class to defeat them."
It promises to be a fierce contest, with football in Bosnia and Herzegovina very much on the up in the wake of the national team's success. This season's league may only be an appetiser for the World Cup drama to come in Brazil, but it could well end up providing more than enough excitement for any fans to handle.
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