Well I was undeniably distracted writing this column with the unexpected result that was unfolding before my eyes in watching Bosnia suffer a shock defeat to Cyprus in their opening Euro 2016 qualifier. I was hoping that I would be able to start on a more positive note today. I am disappointed for Asmir and the team because, until tonight, my ‘football’ feet hadn’t touched the ground after the euphoric experience of the World Cup and its preceding qualifying campaign for Bosnia.
There have been some changes to the squad since Brazil, with the exit of stalwart players being replaced with newer but promising faces. Like it is in any team, they need time to adjust and acclimatise to each other. Although Bosnia may have suffered a defeat this time, I am confident, from the moments of determination displayed tonight in Zenica, that they will be back with fire in their guts to win their next qualifying match. They are not called ‘The Dragons” for nothing!
Bosnia’s Brazilian Adventure- Part One
It is truly remarkable that the journey to qualify for Brazil began for Asmir and the Bosnian national football team all the way back to their 8-1 victory against Liechtenstein on the 7th of September 2012. Their successful qualifying campaign concluded with a decisive 1-0 victory over Lithuania on the 15th of October 2013- an evening I remember very well! It was an incredible day to say the least, as it was also an unusual one of sorts.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend this crucial final match as I was driving my lorry on a three day round trip to Germany to pick-up my horse Foxy, who I had just purchased. As it happened, there was a convenient truck stop near Asmir’s family home outside of Heilbronn, Germany. I was very fortunate, along with my groom Heidi (who incidentally was born in Germany), to be able to enjoy watching the game with Asmir’s family whilst tucking into a much needed and very tasty Bosnian feast with the game playing on the laptop nearby. It was one of the most intense meals I have ever experienced as we all struggled to make general conversation amongst ourselves with the magnitude of the game and its result weighing on all our minds. As you already know, Bosnia won and were through to their very first World Cup (and it is a wonder that any plates or glasses were left in one piece on the table as we all wildly got to our feet in celebration). That night as I tried (unsuccessfully I may add) to sleep in my lorry, little did I know of the scenes that were unfolding in Bosnia as their entire population took to the streets to celebrate and welcome the team who made a prompt return to Sarajevo that night to join in the street celebrations. Witnessing the recorded scenes the next morning over a truck-stop coffee, I knew then we were in for a very exciting journey, and it didn’t disappoint.
Take off time.....
As our travelling party of eight, consisting of mine and Asmir’s direct family, settled into our seats on our twelve hour flight bound for Rio, we couldn’t believe it was really happening. By this time, Asmir had already been away for a month with the team in preparation for the group stages, so we were all very excited to be reunited with him, even if it were only for a few precious moments at a time. The flight time passed by surprising quick, no doubt aided by our excitement and anticipation. It seemed like in a flash of a moment we had whisked through all of the usual airport arrival procedures and were speeding along Rio De Janerio’s highways towards our hotel, which was joined to the team hotel. The moment we pulled up and parked next to the official team bus adorned with the official World Cup logo’s flanked by 24/7 armed guards, we really knew we had arrived.
Asmir greeted us with his teammate Haris Medunjanin, much to the delight of the fans that were steadfast in their patience for hours and hours each day, in the hope of catching glimpse or photo of a passing player. You couldn’t have written what happened next in all the chaos of excited fans, mounds of luggage, and customary ‘hello’s’. Whilst all this was going on, I recognized a man in the distance and casually said to Asmir and Haris that I could see Maradona going into the hotel to which they both instantly and simultaneously dismissed me, probably because they assumed I wouldn’t know who he was, but lucky for them I did. After I insisted they look, their faces dropped in amazement and disbelief, as if Santa had just appeared before their very eyes, and Asmir thrust his phone into my hand demanding a picture with Haris. I found it amusing as Asmir usually keeps his cool when meeting high profile or famous people, but he failed miserably here as he and Haris ran and flanked a compact sized Maradona for that once in a lifetime photo. That moment was a wonderful way to kick-off our tour of Brazil and is one of my favourite photos from the trip.
After a good night’s sleep due to exhaustion (thankfully jet lag hadn’t quite grasped us yet), the family and I had a lovely day sightseeing around Rio, most importantly strolling along the infamous Copacabana beach. It was alive with music and people everywhere, celebrating the arrival of biggest show on earth and it is no joke that football is practically a religion out there. It was really nice to be able to mix with the players and their families in the day. It made for a relaxing atmosphere, which I am sure, was most welcome for the players. For me personally, one of the most special moments of the trip happened the eve of the first group game against Argentina, that was being staged at the colossal and monumental Maracana stadium in Rio. A privileged few, mainly a small number of the players’ families, were invited to watch Bosnia’s pre-match training session at the Maracana. I have been to many venues to watch Asmir play over the years, but walking into the Maracana was a breathtaking moment as the enormity of it all hit me. There was a wonderful calm in the stadium and I relished in the opportunity to be able see it empty and just take everything in. The most poignant moment was seeing Asmir walk out of the tunnel for the first time and as he stopped and looked around to take it all in, he smiled to himself. I could only imagine what that moment must have felt like for him- from boyhood dream to reality. I had tears in my eyes, as I was so overwhelmed with pride and happiness for him. As my step-dad Andy and I took our seats, amongst 78,800 empty ones to watch the training session, we knew we were in for quite the show in less than 24 hours time…and let’s say we weren’t disappointed!
To be continued………..