Over 20 years ago Begovic and his family were forced to flee Bosnia by the bitter civil war. Now, the Stoke keeper tells Ian Herbert, he is a key part of the national side which, thanks to the spirit forged in those times, is going to Brazil this summer.
The tunnels still visible on the Sarajevo airport runway brought everything home to Asmir Begovic: the desperate need there had been to dig out an escape route from the gunfire and the fear that always came when darkness fell on a Bosnia riven by civil war.
More than 20 years have passed since his family took him, then a four-year-old, away from the carnage which befell their home town, Trebinje, after ethnic conflict between Bosnians, Serbs and Croats exploded as Yugoslavia was torn apart. The Begovics simply packed up the car and left, heading into a form of exile which saw them consider settling in Turkey and Sweden, before finding safety among relatives in Kirchhausen, Germany and ultimately moving on again, to Canada. And though Bosnia was always there, in the fabric of an upbringing during which Begovic was encouraged to speak the language, celebrate the festivals, eat Bosnian cuisine and know of the painfully slow recovery, it is football which has restored the Stoke City goalkeeper to the country where he most belongs.
Begovic, on whom Stoke manager Mark Hughes will be relying more heavily than ever as Arsenal visit the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League today, began to restore the link when he was asked to play for the newly formed Bosnia international side in 2009. It brought him into the company of players like Edin Dzeko, now a close friend; the two look out for each other and follow each other’s progress. Having delivered him back to Sarajevo to play matches, it has now given him the opportunity which never seemed conceivably possible – a place at this summer’s World Cup, in which Bosnia’s first appearance sees them grouped with Argentina, Iran and Nigeria.
Premier League football under Hughes is offering new football horizons, too. He is being asked to provide a more ambitious, technical, footballing component to a Stoke side now committed to going forward.