All set for the first feel fo the big stage

For Bosnia and Herzegovina, which became a full member of the FIFA only in 1996, qualifying for the 2014 World Cup is its greatest moment.

After the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s into splinter republics, Croatia and Serbia recovered quickly to carve out a fabulous record. Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, would lie low for some time to come. And it was not until 1995 that the national football team was granted provisional membership by FIFA.

Bosnia and Herzegovina played its first official game, a 2-0 friendly loss to Albania, in November 1995. Fuad Muzurovic, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first coach, requested his players to assemble in Zagreb for the friendly, but only eight turned up.

“I gathered my assistants and we decided that if we couldn’t find more players we should play. We just wanted to have a national team, no matter the squad, no matter the performance, no matter the result,” he said.

Some of the players had already retired, but with a couple of late additions, they were able to manage a ‘starting eleven’. Jerseys were bought in one of Zagreb’s sports shops hours before the flight.

Despite the loss, Bosnia and Herzegovina took its first little steps towards football history. In 1996, the nation became a full member of the FIFA and made its official debut on September 1, 1996 in the qualifying campaign for the 1998 World Cup. Bosnia and Herzegovina lost to Greece 3-0 and finished fourth in its group.

The EURO 2000 qualifiers turned out to be a morale-booster, as Bosnia and Herzegovina finished third in the group, behind the Czech Republic and Scotland. However, things did not go well in the qualifying campaign for the 2002 World Cup.

Blaz Sliskovic, nicknamed the Balkan Maradona, was brought in as the new coach to engineer a revival. Bosnia and Herzegovina came within a goal of reaching the EURO 2004 finals only to draw 1-1 against Denmark and finish fourth in a tantalisingly close group.

After the campaign ended in tears, the team looked at the 2006 FIFA World Cup with a renewed sense of purpose and vigour. Bosnia and Herzegovina got off to a splendid start, playing out draws against the highly rated Spain and Serbia at home to gain two crucial points. But these positives were soon overshadowed by the thumping the team suffered at the hands of Belgium and a home draw against Lithuania. Bosnia and Herzegovina finished a creditable third, behind Serbia and Montenegro and Spain and ahead of Belgium, Lithuania and San Marino. After the transition period that brought with it a largely unsuccessful EURO 2008 qualifying campaign, the legendary Miroslav Blazevic took over as the head coach just before the commencement of the qualifiers for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first home game, Zvjezdan Misimovic scored a hat-trick as the team demolished Estonia 7-0 in what was the country’s biggest-ever win. It accumulated 19 points during the course of the campaign and booked its place in the qualifying play-off. Portugal denied the brave Bosnians, winning both legs by 1-0 margins.

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s big moment came when the superstar coach, Safet Susic, guided the team to its maiden World Cup finals.

A country that has officially been announced as the poorest in the continent, Bosnia and Herzegovina may well be every football fan’s favourite underdog in Brazil.

* * * The legend of Susic

Safet Susic - the midfield magician - is a legend and current manager of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In his playing days, he operated as an attacking midfielder with superb passing ability and an excellent goalsscoring record. In 2010, Susic was voted Paris Saint-Germain's Best Player of all time by the French magazine, France Football. He is remembered for his three stunning hat-tricks - against Romania, Italy and Argentina - for Yugoslavia in the late 1970s.

Hasan Salihamidzic was another great footballer. He made a name for himself while playing for Bayern Munich for nine seasons. With Bayern, he won the Bundesliga title six times, DFB-Pokal title four times and the 2000-2001 UEFA Champions League. He made 234 appearances and scored 31 goals for the German club.