The Virgin’s First Ball

By March 4, 2014 Issue 02

Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic talks to Eight by Eight about playing for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Brazil.


Few aspects of the World Cup embody the energy and excitement surrounding the tournament as much as a nation gracing the global stage for the first time. In 2014 that nation is Bosnia and Herzegovina. After missing qualification for the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 in the playoffs, Safet Sušić’s men won their qualifying group with a heart-stopping victory over Lithuania, booking his side’s first appearance in a major tournament final since it gained FIFA recognition in 1995. Now the squad prepares for Brazil. Before the long trip, Stoke City and Bosnia-and-Herzegovina goalkeeper Asmir Begović spoke to Eight by Eight about what reaching Brazil signifies for him and his countrymen; his decision to play for Bosnia and Herzegovina ahead of Canada, the side he started his international youth career with in 2004; and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s much anticipated opening match against Argentina.

What does reaching Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first major tournament mean to you and your international teammates?
It means everything. It’s actually something that’s difficult to put into words because there’s what it means to you as a player—to achieve that kind of success, to be playing in a major tournament, and because a World Cup in Brazil is obviously huge—but also what it means to the country. After all the years of trouble, hurt, and pain, to give some joy and something positive to cheer about is pretty big for us.

Did the World Cup draw make it all a bit more real? You face Argentina, Nigeria, and Iran—there are some huge matches in your group.
Exactly. We’re definitely feeling a little bit more into the spirit of it now. It takes a while to sink in—what qualifying for the World Cup means—and it’s still a bit surreal now. But it has sunk in more after the draw. We got a great group. There are some great games to look forward to, and we’re very excited to be part of it all.

Let’s go back to the night Bosnia and Herzegovina qualified in Lithuania. How did it feel?
It was an incredible experience. It was full of emotion, and it was such a relief too—the last couple of times, we were really close to qualifying, and to actually climb over that hurdle was so big for us. It was a relief for me too. There was so much pressure on us, because we wanted to do it for the whole country.
It was an unbelievable 24 hours. It was such a special night to achieve [qualification], and then the reception that we got back home in Sarajevo … that’s something that I’ll never forget. But that’s kind of why I play football, to be part of those celebrations and these experiences.

You were born in Bosnia but grew up in Germany and Canada. How were you connected to Bosnian culture as a kid?
Very little to Bosnia itself, because we moved away when I was 4, so I don’t have many memories of the country [from that age]. The thing that stuck with me is that we lived in a Bosnian way. My parents always made sure we spoke Bosnian at home, so we were really part of Bosnian culture and tradition. It was never far away from me. Growing up like that, there was nothing I would have rather done than represent my country, so it means a lot to me.

Did qualifying remind you of why you elected to play for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
It all paid off in that moment, to be honest. I never had to really justify it to myself or anybody else. I always knew I made the right decision, from the day I changed. I was born there, so it was never really something that was on my mind too much, but this experience just confirmed everything that I always hoped would happen. I’m just really glad everything worked out.

What is the reaction within your immediate and extended family to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s making the World Cup?
They’re just overjoyed. They’ve been through a lot, so for it to all come together is really special for everyone in the family. It’s one of the big reasons why I switched, because playing for Bosnia means so much to everyone in my family. They can come and watch all of the games and really be part of this whole experience.

What has it been like spending more time in Bosnia since playing for the national team?
It’s been brilliant. I get to interact with even more of my family and all my people that are back there. My family comes to visit too, so my wife and daughter have been welcomed. It’s just an amazing country with some great people. Whatever’s happened in the past is in the past. People stick really close together, so it’s a great place to be.

Your first match of the World Cup is against Argentina, one of the favorites of the tournament. Can you discuss that matchup?
We played Argentina in November [a 2-0 Argentina win], and obviously they’re a really strong team with threats all over the pitch. We got to see what’s waiting for us in Brazil and the size of the task ahead, but it’s a challenge that we’re going to relish.
We’re looking forward to playing Argentina at the opening game at the Maracanã. It doesn’t get much bigger than that. In a way, we kind of have nothing to lose—it being our first time at a major tournament—so we’ll try to use that to our advantage.

With so much of the Premier League season left, is the World Cup at the back of your mind? Will it almost feel like a surprise when you do get there next summer?
That’s it! It feels like it should be tomorrow, but it’s still six months away. There’s still a big job to do [at Stoke City] to make sure the club finishes the season as strongly as possible. The World Cup is a great thing to look forward to. It gives you real positive energy, and you enjoy your day-to-day stuff even more when you have the summer to look forward to.

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