Unbeaten since September, FK Željezničar can take a major step towards a third straight Bosnian and Herzegovinian Premier League title when they host second-ranked NK Široki Brijeg on Saturday.
Just eight games remain in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and with five teams chasing top spot, there is little margin for error. Široki Brijeg, HŠK Zrinjski and FK Sarajevo are all within three points of Željezničar, with FK Borac Banja Luka just two further back
No one has defeated the Sarajevo Railwaymen since 21 September, but Saturday's fixture pitches them against the last side to have bettered them, Široki Brijeg having prevailed 3-2 in Pecara. Although Željezničar have drawn three of their four matches since the winter break, and also finished 2-2 at Široki Brijeg in a 19 February friendly, there have been no ties in the teams' 29 league meetings to date.
Željezničar coach Hajrudin Djurbuzović started the season building his side around players from the youth ranks, including Armin Hodžić, Nermin Zolotić, Rijad Bajić, Damir Sadiković and Kerim Memija, who only turned 18 two months ago. That production line recently turned out Edin Džeko, Ervin Zukanović, Ibrahim Šehić, Semir Štilić, Avdija Vršajević and Edin Višća.
After winning their first three Premier League outings, Željezničar's next five games yielded just two points but they were soon back into their stride – their defence especially strong with six clean sheets in their last 11 top-flight matches. Up front, 19-year-old Hodžić, sold to Liverpool FC in 2011 but spending a second campaign back at the club on loan, has ten goals, two behind the divison's leading marksman Wagner of Široki Brijeg.
"I am happy I got this chance to play for my beloved club," Hodžić said. "I'll repay it with good displays and goals. I will fight to the end to be top scorer in the league and to win the championship."
Djurbuzović knows there will be drama aplenty in the weeks ahead – with the Bosnian season ending early to give players extra time to focus on their FIFA World Cup finals debut – yet is eager to point out that winning is not everything. "Our goal is to defend the title but also to create young players," he explained. "We have a very tough run-in – on Saturday we face Široki Brijeg and we also welcome our great city rivals Sarajevo in round 29."
Saturday should be an exciting day away from the Grbavica Stadium too, with Zrinjski bringing Borac to their Bijeli Brijeg home looking to remove the Banja Luka side from title contention. It will be Sarajevo's turn to take the strain on Sunday as they entertain FK Velež – another top Bosnian team in the Yugoslav era.
The championship, though, is Željezničar's to lose, and former Gençlerbirliği SK and MKE Ankaragücü striker Djurbuzović is not about to let it go. "We have the strength and quality to prevail," said the 57-year-old.
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