This season the three different factions in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be reunited in a single league for the first time since the war in the country ended in 1995. In May, the Premijer liga, organised by the Bosnian football association (NSBiH), finally made an agreement to join forces with the Republika Srpska (RS), the league from the Serb-ruled part of the country, after four years of negotiations.
The Premijer liga will now involve 20 clubs, but Bosnia’s football officials have agreed to decrease that number after the first year in order to improve the standard of play. The new league will see 12 clubs from the NSBiH: FK Zeljeznicar, NK Široki Brijeg, NK Brotnjo, FK Sarajevo, NK Celik, NK Orašje, HŠK Zrinjski, NK Jedinstvo, FK Velez, NK Posušje, NK Bosna and FK Sloboda. They will be joined by the top two from the second division, NK Zovko Zepce and FK Buducnost Banovici. There will also be six clubs from the Serb league: FK Leotar, FK Kozara, FK Borac Banja Luka, FK Glasinac, FK Mladost Gacko and FK Rudar.
Zeljeznicar, who are enjoying some success in this season’s UEFA Champions League after their 1-0 win away at Lillestrøm SK on Wednesday, are favourites to take the first title. Borac are the strongest club in the Serb-ruled part of the country, but they have not played in the national league for ten years and that is likely to show. Široki and Sarajevo will also be strong but are unlikely to be disputing the title.
The battle for survival in the top flight will be made more interesting as the Premijer liga is to go down to 16 clubs from next season. But all the participants will start with a renewed sense of optimism after the country slowly rebuilds after the fighting. Security is an issue but recent friendly matches have passed without incident and, of course, the Bosnia-Herzegovnian Cup has involved all the communities over the last two seasons.
"The competition will be very strong this year. We will have the opportunity to play against clubs as Borac and Leotar who were all strong in the former Yugoslavian league. But we most fear our city rivals Sarajevo," said Zeljeznicar coach Amar Osim.
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