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Sarajevo stage set for unique eternal derby

Bosnia and Herzegovina's eternal derby between FK Sarajevo and FK Željezničar is always special but Saturday's 100th instalment could lift the rivalry to a new stratosphere.

Eldin Adilović (centre) is likely to lead Željezničar's attack in the eternal derby
Eldin Adilović (centre) is likely to lead Željezničar's attack in the eternal derby ©Fedja Krvavac

Bosnia and Herzegovina's eternal derby is always eagerly awaited but Saturday's meeting, the 100th instalment, has been circled on calendars for months in the capital and beyond. FK Sarajevo and FK Željezničar, the nation's biggest sides, sit level at the Premier League summit, vying to be No1 – in every respect.

Since Sarajevo romped to a 6-1 triumph against their more established cross-city neighbours 58 years ago, on 10 October 1954, their encounters have become the stuff of legend. The fixture quickly established itself as one of the big two in the former Yugoslavia, alongside the great Belgrade derby between FK Partizan and FK Crvena zvezda. Time was measured not in weeks and months, but in days until the next one.

Neighbourhoods, streets, even families were divided along footballing lines although the rivalry has almost exclusively been restricted to the stadiums. Traditionally the fans would make their way to the suburbs of Grbavica and Kosevo side by side, part company at their respective tribunes to watch the game before convening after full time for the walk home. Fiercest of rivals, best of friends.

Bragging rights have been lost and regained throughout an endless cycle. As they approach this 100th clash, Željezničar boast 31 wins to Sarajevo's 30, while May's 2-2 stalemate was the 38th draw. Honours even, not that it made for a more tranquil journey home – three days earlier Željezničar had captured their fourth Premier League title, eclipsing Sarajevo's sole 2006/07 triumph.

This time there is everything to play for, with the teams locked at the summit after 11 games, five points clear of the pack after an identical start of nine wins, a draw and a defeat. Not that the players require further motivation according to Bosnia and Herzegovina boss and ex-Sarajevo playmaker Safet Sušić. "To coach the national team is an honour and obligation, but playing in the eternal derby is unique.

"You carry the feeling with you forever. The players from both teams always lived for the derby. We were friends before the derby and remained so after." Former Željezničar midfielder and coach Ivica Osim echoed that sentiment: "Playing international football is the biggest thing you can achieve in football, but to play the eternal derby was pretty special. You waited for it with impatience, though when it was over we all kind of felt like winners."

Sarajevo derby – key facts
Wins: Sarajevo (30), Željezničar (31), Draws (38)
Most appearances: Muhamed Alaim (Sarajevo), Faruk Ihtijarević (Sarajevo, Željezničar) 22
Most goals: Asim Ferhatović Hase (Sarajevo), Dželaludin Muharemović (Željezničar) 6