Around 60,000 fans gathered in Sarajevo to greet their homecoming heroes after Bosnia and Herzegovina won 1-0 in Lithuania last night to reach their first FIFA World Cup finals.
Vedad Ibišević scored the only goal in Kaunas after 68 minutes to ensure that Bosnia and Herzegovina remained above Greece on goal difference at the top of Group G. "We believed we could do it as time went on, and it was clear to everyone on the pitch that a goal had to come," said the VfB Stuttgart forward. "I hit it for victory, for Brazil, for our fans around the world, for our country."
Supporters stayed up late to greet the players after they returned home, with an open-topped bus taking the team from the airport to Sarajevo's central Titova ulica thoroughfare at 02.00 local time to join the celebrations. "There is no greater joy than hearing that the fans are celebrating across the country and around the world," added Edin Džeko, who set up Ibišević's strike and scored ten Group G goals.
Bosnia and Herzegovina had contested the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012, losing on each occasion, and also missed out on the last day of qualifying for UEFA EURO 2004. However, coach Safet Sušić – named his nation's golden player as part of UEFA's Jubilee celebrations – made sure there would be no uncertainty this time, with his side kicking off their Group G campaign with an 8-1 victory in Liechtenstein and retaining pole position throughout.
"When I took charge of these players four years ago, I believed in their ability and their huge desire to succeed," said the 58-year-old, who went to the 1990 World Cup with Yugoslavia. "In the course of two qualifying campaigns we have not had a single problem, and I thank them for that."
Captain Emir Spahić has been with Bosnia and Herzegovina throughout the last decade, experiencing those play-off disappointments, and the 33-year-old Bayer 04 Leverkusen defender is glad their long wait is finally over. "It was destined to be," he said. "All thanks to everyone who was behind us."
The Dragons had to win in Lithuania to be certain of qualifying, but their most experienced player – 78-times capped midfielder Zvjezdan Misimović – never doubted his team-mates. "It was only a question of when we would score," the 31-year-old said. "There were no nerves before or after the goal. The most important thing is that we succeeded. The best evidence of how important that was is the spectacular celebration our fans have prepared for us."
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