An international in both football and handball, Sabina Pehić carries Bosnia-Herzegovina's hopes in their decisive game with Israel on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Bosnia-Herzegovina will attempt to delight the home fans in Sarajevo with a win against Israel that would take them into the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2009™ main qualifying group stage. It would be a remarkable result for a team that on their debut in the 2001 competition conceded 32 goals in their six defeats. One survivor from that side, and the undisputed leader of the team, is striker Sabina Pehić, a member of that select club of athletes in the national squad for more than one sport.
Not only has Pehić scored 26 goals in a record 38 appearances, including a 12-minute hat-trick in Monday's 4-1 defeat of Latvia - a game Bosnia-Herzegovina trailed at half-time - and earned the UEFA B-coaching licence, but she is also a handball international. The 32-year-old has helped clubs to national titles in both disciplines, claiming national championships in each sport with teams from the same town - Bugojno - in 2000/01. As well as winning caps in each game, she has been the top scorer for all the clubs she has played for in both disciplines.
Pehić told uefa.com: "For more than a decade I have played football and handball at the same time. I don't have a favourite. I started playing handball first. I was in the youth national team of the former Yugoslavia in 1989, but I started playing football in 1996 for ŽNK Mecca in Zenica. I have played handball in Croatia, Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina, now I play for ŽRK Željeznicar from Hadzici. [In football] I play for ŽNK Maksimir in Zagreb."
It is a tiring schedule, playing for two clubs in different sports in different countries. "Of course, it's not easy, I have to play well and score goals," the football national team captain said. "I spend most of my time travelling. I play handball on Saturdays and football on Sundays. But, I love sport so it's not hard to me. I will be playing both sports as long as I'm physically able to."
When there is a clash, football takes priority, but it has been a struggle to rebuild, as with many things in the nation, since the conflicts of the 1990s. "The beginning was very hard," Pehić said. "Women's football in Bosnia-Herzegovina had been played since 1971. It started with difficulties, but we managed to found several clubs. In 1999 the national team entered the [FIFA Women's] World Cup. We scored a first goal [in the seventh game against Romania], then claimed a first win. It was hard but promising at the same time."
That victory was especially memorable for Pehić, and came in August 1998 against the nation she and her team-mates hope to see off in the preliminary round tomorrow, Israel. "We beat them with 4-1 in Vogosca," she said. "That was our first win and I scored all four goals. It was a very good match and I'm expecting a very good game at the Koševo Stadium this time as well. Israel have a very good playing staff, but I think we have strength to make it."