A draw in their final Group 2 qualifying game against Denmark meant Bosnia-Herzegovina missed out on UEFA EURO 2004™ in agonising fashion.
In the days following the 1-1 draw in Sarajevo, which ended Bosnian hopes of a trip to Portugal, football fans in the former Yugoslavian republic are gradually getting used to the idea that their push for qualification ended in glorious failure.
However, those who followed Blaž Sliškovic's side have good reason to be proud of the fact that, at full-time in the Koševo stadium, they had been just one goal away from winning Group 2 and booking a place in the finals of a major international tournament for the first time in the country's history.
Trailing to a 12th-minute goal from Martin Jørgensen, Sliškovic's team equalised after 39 minutes through Elvir Bolic. Although the Danes had chances to restore their lead, Bosnia-Herzegovina toiled to the end to find the goal that would have sent them into the UEFA European Championship finals.
Tears greeted the final whistle in Sarajevo as a team boasting the likes of Hasan Salihamidzic, Sergej Barbarez and Mirsad Hibic realised that their European dream had come to nothing. However, while the sadness will remain, a sense of pride in their achievements will buoy Bosnia-Herzegovina in the future.
'One step away'
"This night was sad," said Hamburger SV midfield player Barbarez. "
I am sad and I will be whenever I remember this night, 11 October. We were one step away from a huge success, but we didn't manage it. But, on the other hand, we showed that this team has spirit and we will be respected wherever we go in Europe."
Certainly, Denmark will have been impressed by what they saw in Sarajevo where a huge crowd gathered to will the home favourites on. Few would deny, though, that Morten Olsen's side did enough to earn the point that booked their passage to Portugal next summer.
Indeed, Olsen's men already had good reason to be wary of Bosnia-Herzegovina, having lost their only game of the qualifying campaign to Sliškovic's team in Copenhagen on 2 April. "I didn't pick the right lineup," Olsen said after that defeat. On Saturday, he clearly made amends.
However, nothing can take away from the Bosnians' achievement even though they finished fourth in the table, a point behind Norway and Romania. The team crossed ethnic barriers in a nation still riven with tensions from recent wars and demonstrated to the world the depth of their footballing ability.
Moreover, with the coach making use of the talent available in the domestic league as well as players plying their trade abroad, Bosnia-Herzegovina have the potential to bounce straight back from this setback.
I hoped, I believed, but it didn't work out," said Vladan Grujic, one of the team's youngest players, after the game. "This is a difficult moment, but we realised that this country has a good team. There will be more qualification campaigns in the future."
Reason to believe
There is still plenty of sadness in Sarajevo, but as that mood lifts, what remains for football supporters in Bosnia-Herzegovina is hope for the future and the memory of a proud campaign that almost ended in glory.
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