Sarajevo: Finally it was an opportunity to release an outpouring of elation for Bosnians, who reached their first major football tournament as an independent nation when Tuesday’s 1-0 win in Lithuania booked their ticket to next year’s World Cup finals in Brazil.
Donning national team shirts and wrapped in flags and scarves, Sarajevo inhabitants and those who poured into the city from other parts of the country celebrated the historic success as a seemingly endless motorcade blocked streets once littered with victims of snipers and mortar shells.
Nearly two decades after the conflict, Bosnia remains a dysfunctional country marred by ethnic divisions, political instability and economic hardship, with the bickering of rival Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders slowing down its progress towards the European Union.
A US-brokered peace deal silenced the guns but created a system of ethnic power-sharing so unwieldy that the process of governing often grinds to a halt, stifling recovery and reform in a country where 28 per cent of the population are unemployed.
The prospect of playing in the World Cup has, in the short term, put aside worries about delayed wages and low pensions, and instilled hope that politicians can follow in the footsteps of the national football team, a rare beacon of light and unity.
With a football pyramid resembling a house of cards and devoid of any real quality, Bosnia owes its impressive achievement to exiled household names such as Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and Stuttgart forward Vedad Ibisevic.
It was no surprise that the top scorers in the qualifiers carved out the winning goal with Dzeko setting up Ibisevic to score from close range much to the delight of 5,000 Bosnian fans, who vastly outnumbered the home faithful in Kaunas.
“I want to thank all those who made the trip and also all our fans who are now celebrating in Bosnia and throughout the world,” Dzeko said after the final whistle. “We have shown just how mighty Bosnia is… Have shown our strength… We are over the moon,” he added.
Susic, once a gifted forward who scored 21 goals in 54 appearances for the former Yugoslavia and represented them at two World Cups, was barely able to hold back the tears as he addressed an improvised news conference at Sarajevo airport.