Direct from Sarajevo

The Bosnia Beat with ASN's Sarajevo Correspondent

American Soccer Now sent Scotland-based Graham Ruthven to Sarejevo to cover the United States - Bosnia match. He got everything he bargained for, and perhaps a bit more. Here are some final thoughts.
BY Graham Ruthven Posted
August 15, 2013
8:14 AM
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina—When Jurgen Klinsmann told the Bosnian media on Tuesday he expected one of the toughest games he’d faced as coach of the U.S. men’s national team, he meant it.

The hosts were indeed impressive, particularly star players Miralem Pjanic and Eden Dzeko. In fact, if you are to believe the Bosnian fans, the Manchester City striker is on par with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. His face adorns billboards, storefronts, TV commercials, the whole lot. He’s the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Roger Federer of Bosnia—all rolled into one.

Tim Howard spoke of the momentum heading into the friendly. How the 11-game winning streak gave the players confidence with next month’s World Cup qualifiers looming. The U.S. arrived in Sarajevo motivated. Unfortunately for them, Bosnia took this game seriously too.

That run looked to be coming to an end. Quite simply Bosnia were too good. But that’s what makes the U.S.’ comeback win all the more impressive. This wasn’t some CONCACAF minnow. This was a side of genuine quality on their own winning streak, on their own patch, in front of a sell-out crowd. It could be the biggest sign yet the USA is ready for the World Cup (although a lot can change in a year).

Just like for the Americans on the pitch, things started sluggishly for me in the stands. Upon meeting up with Sasa Ibrulj (ASN’s Bosnia insider) in the press box I was told there was no wi-fi. All soccer writers dread those words.

As it turned out, it had merely not been switched on yet and 10 minutes before kick-off the button was pressed and all was in order. But then problems persisted with the password.

U.S. press guru Michael Kammarman solicited the help of a local journalist, who appeared to have the magic touch. I approached him.

“For you, there’s no Internet,” I was told. “You wrote about the people of Sarajevo.” After a pretty intense second or two of scowling, his friend interjected, “He’s joking.” I’m not so sure he was, but in the end he did help me out, which I greatly appreciated.

After finally connecting to the wi-fi (between myself, the local journalist, and ESPN’s Roger Bennett, we got there in the end) I had the chance to fully take in my surroundings.

When I’d visited the Kosevo Stadium on Monday it had been a lifeless, desolate place. Now it was vibrant, somewhat manic, and very loud.

The BH Fanaticos, as their banner proclaimed, set the tone for the atmosphere. When they started chanting, the words would reverberate round the stadium. “Bosnia are the champions,” they sang, along with renditions of “If you don’t jump, you hate Bosnia.” If I hadn’t had a laptop perched on my knees I would’ve joined in.

The game itself was as competitive an affair as you’re likely to encounter on the friendly circuit, with momentum shifting as quickly as the Wave circled the stadium.

A Jozy Altidore hat trick, a U.S. come-from-behind victory, and seven goals later and it was over, meaning I had to exit the stadium and make my way through 34,000 Bosnian fans to get to the mixed zone (the press box was on the opposite side of the venue). No mean feat.

As is often the case in a mixed zone, you segregate into working teams of journalists. I paired up with a young Bosnian woman who wanted to speak to John Anthony Brooks about playing against Eden Dzeko, I would ask my U.S.-orientated questions before she asked her Bosnia-focused queries. That’s how it works sometimes.

So after the U.S. locker room emptied, with every player having shuffled through the improvised mixed zone, I headed for the exit and the Sarajevo night.

My Internet expert from earlier shuffled past me as I walked out the front door.

“Do you need a taxi now? See you later, taxi driver,” he teased in reference to my controversial article.

But before I could politely laugh to avoid any more awkwardness, the woman, my friend from the mixed zone, turned round, aghast.

“You’re that American guy? Oh my god! I hate you.”

Good night Sarajevo. It’s been fun.

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