Abdulah had been the previous three days’ life and soul but now he stood still, arms outstretched, at the sting of a precarious concrete overhang. He was sprightly to a degree beyond his 70 years but, in any case, instinct had overtaken him. because the full-time whistle blew, and as Bosnia-Herzegovina began to soak up the size of their achievement, he had vaulted a barrier at the front of this creaking Soviet-era stand’s top tier and wiped away tears before surveying the scene below. “Hajmo Bosno!” (“Go, Bosnia!”), he shouted through the misty air of a night that might have seemed unremittingly bleak if something this momentous had not just occurred. “We did it!” agen sbobet terbaik maxbetsbobet.org
I had travelled with Abdulah on one among a huge convoy of coaches from Sarajevo to the Lithuanian city Kaunas. the thought was to require an equivalent 1,125-mile journey as many of the thousands who had dropped everything in anticipation of what lay at its end. If Bosnia won in Lithuania they might qualify for his or her first World Cup and, for a young country still recovering from the war of the first 1990s, the meaning of that achievement almost transcended explanation.
But because football is about people and lives, and therefore the stories that bind and explain both, there was no lack of willingness to hunt the words. Abdulah had left Bosnia in 1968 to become an iron worker in Adelaide. When Brazil 2014 began to look a sensible proposition, he stored-up and took three flights to Sarajevo for a six-week visit that might overlap with Bosnia’s final four games. Being on this journey to Kaunas had lifted his soul, he said. He felt united with long-distant countrymen during a way that had never seemed possible.
As the bus hugged the Bosna river before winding through Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and therefore the forests of southern Lithuania, fuelled by rakia and laughter, the individual tales kept coming. Elvir had sold a home to fund his odyssey through the team’s qualifiers, and hopefully to Brazil; Adnan was a professional lawyer but had worked all hours during a ironmongery shop to fund his ticket; Sabina was a disillusioned student with dreams of someday, somehow emigrating to Japan and would find how of repaying her football-mad cousin for in the week of escapism; Michael was a German soldier, posted to Sarajevo as a part of Nato and therefore the UN’s post-war presence who couldn’t bring himself to go away .
It was a rag-tag crew, with shared sadnesses and deeply personal ones, too; all joined within the expectation of a happiness whose vessel, an excellent eleven , they might never have foreseen. We arrived in Kaunas then , it seemed, did the whole Bosnian diaspora. Laisves Aleja, the most street, played host to reunions of impossible poignancy. Cousins separated by war then by oceans melted into each other’s arms. Childhood friends from Sarajevo or Mostar picked one another call at a crowd and retold stories that had gathered dust. And now they might attend the football together.
It was a horrible game until the 68th minute. Safet Susic had composed a mesmerising attacking side propelled by Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic but little was coming off against a turgid Lithuania and therefore the unthinkable looked increasingly real. Then Vedad Ibisevic found space within the box and jabbed into internet from six yards; the Bosnians who had filled this unappealing little stadium could now turn it into the venue for a celebration they might remember forever – and one i will be able to too.
I woke subsequent morning with, for reasons that had faded into an endless night, Abdulah’s “Bosnia Adelaide” flag by my side. He had long departed on the return leg to Sarajevo; i used to be to fly back to London from Kaunas. Soon after arriving home I posted it to his home address and, a few of months later, received a note in reply: “Look forward to seeing you again in Sao Paolo, Brazil.” I didn’t make it there, but I even have little question Abdulah did; for him, and every one the others, there would be no barrier high enough to prevent them following the country they adored.