Football in Bosnia and Herzegovina can face the future with optimism.
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Football in Bosnia and Herzegovina can face the future with plenty of optimism. Progress is being made on and off the field throughout the country, which emerged following the end of old political and geographical structures in the region.
The game reached Bosnia and Herzegovina at the start of the 20th century, with Mostar the first city to embrace it in 1905. Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Zenica and Bihac quickly followed suit along with numerous smaller towns as the sport spread. The country was under Austro-Hungarian rule when official competition began in 1908, though these activities remained on a small scale within each district. At the outbreak of World War One, there were four clubs in Sarajevo and approximately 20 outside the capital. The creation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia post 1918 brought an increase in the number of leagues, and soon a domestic national championship was organised featuring two teams from Bosnia and Herzegovina. The unified championship ran until 1939/40.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Football Federation (Nogometni/Fudbalski Savez Bosne i Hercegovine – NFSBiH) was founded after the Second World War, being affiliated to the Yugoslav Football Association (FSJ). Bosnia and Herzegovina's best sides played in the Yugoslavian first, second and third divisions with moderate success: FK Sarajevo won Yugoslav championships in 1967 and 1985, as did FK Željezničar in 1972; FK Velež lifted the Yugoslavian Cup in 1981 and 1986, while FK Borac Banja Luka won it in 1988. Bosnian clubs made an impression in Europe too, with Željezničar being 1984/85 UEFA Cup semi-finalists. Željezničar's exploits underlined the local game's strength, as more than 900 clubs were now associated with the NFSBiH.
Following independence in 1992, the NFSBiH sought membership of football's governing bodies. With the country ravaged by war, though, Bosnia and Herzegovina was only accepted by FIFA in 1996 and by UEFA in 1998. During this period, a championship was played between clubs affiliated with the NFSBiH and the separate Herceg Bosna Football Federation, and won by Željezničar in 1998.
Because of political divisions, the Football Association of Republika Srpska (FA RS) – the Serbian entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina – had declined to participate in the national championship. Football was finally united on 23 May 2002 after the FA RS general assembly adopted the FA RS statutes in accordance with the NFSBiH and FIFA, as well as UEFA statutory provisions. Furthermore, it agreed to a common domestic championship for the whole territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002/03 – a 20-team division comprising 12 sides from the old top flight, plus the first division winners and runners-up, and six clubs from the FA RS. FK Leotar were the inaugural champions.
The national team showed similar togetherness in UEFA EURO 2004 qualifying. Had Bosnia and Herzegovina beaten Denmark in their last match they would have gone to Portugal, yet a 1-1 draw took the Danes through. The side also excelled in FIFA World Cup action. They finished third in their qualification section for the 2006 finals after losing two of ten games. Then only a narrow play-off defeat by Portugal denied them a trip to South Africa 2010 after Bosnia and Herzegovina had come second behind Spain in their group. UEFA EURO 2012 brought further heartache, with Portugal again blocking their route to a major tournament in the play-offs – this after Safet Sušić's men had run France close for an automatic qualifying berth. Finally, though, the Bosnians were successful in getting to a major finals, the 2014 World Cup. In Brazil they achieved a first-ever championship victory, 3-1 against Iran, yet not before reverses to Argentina and Nigeria which prevented their progression.
The country's Under-21s endured similar heartache to the seniors when losing a qualifying play-off for their 2007 UEFA European Championship. However, standards have continued to rise across all aspects of the game. The NFSBiH statutes were officially rubber-stamped by FIFA and UEFA in 2006. Sarajevo got as far as the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round in 2007/08 and the UEFA Europa League play-offs in 2014/15. Meanwhile, the NFSBiH has staged qualifying matches and mini-tournaments for UEFA's U17 and U19 competitions – men's and women's. A new training centre in Zenica opened in September 2013 for use by all national teams, while 40 mini-pitches have been built thanks to UEFA's HatTrick assistance scheme. Nine mini-courts for people with special needs and disabilities are also planned, with further infrastructure developments scheduled following the floods that affected Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2014.
The national team achieved a notable success in qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, playing three games in the group stage. A year later, the national team celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first official friendly against Albania in Tirana (0-2). There was disappointment when the team coached by Mehmed Baždarević failed to make it to UEFA EURO 2016, following defeat by the Republic of Ireland in the playoffs.
On the women's football front, SFK 2000 Sarajevo qualified twice for the UEFA Women's Champions League knockout phase, in 2012/13 and 2016/17. Meanwhile, the U17 national men's team qualified for their first-ever European final rounds, in Azerbaijan in 2016 and Croatia in 2017.