Bosnian football stars hit out at decision to play a friendly match with Russia

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Edin Dzeko gestures during the Champions League, Group D soccer match between Inter Milan and Shakhtar Donetsk at the San Siro stadium, 24 November 2021

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Bosnia and Herzegovina will play Russia in a friendly match in November, the country’s Football Association announced on its official website on Friday, sparking harsh criticism from Bosnia’s star players.

The game is scheduled to take place in St Petersburg on 19 November, one day before the World Cup in Qatar is to start.

Russia’s national teams were barred from international competition over Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February.

Bosnia failed to qualify for the World Cup, participating in the final tournament for the first and last time in 2014. 

The decision to play the friendly with Russia was made by the Association’s urgency committee in an emergency session on Friday, with five votes for and one against.

Team captain, Inter Milan’s Edin Džeko, openly criticised the decision, lashing out at the idea of playing against Russia amidst its aggression in Ukraine.

“I am against playing this match. I am always and only for peace,” Džeko told Bosnian outlet Klix. “Unfortunately, I am not the one deciding on who Bosnia will play against, but my position on this is clear and it doesn’t involve playing this match while innocent people are being killed.”

“I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in these difficult times for them,” Džeko, who has won the Premier League twice and the Bundesliga once in his stellar career, concluded.

Criticism keeps pouring in

“The decision is not good. I am speechless,” midfielder Miralem Pjanić told the local media. “The national Football Association [officials] know what I think.”

The 32-year-old former Juventus and Barcelona player has made 107 international appearances since his debut in 2008. He has recently signed for Sharjah FC in the United Arab Emirates.

Goalkeeper Asmir Begović — the country’s former No. 1 currently plying his trade with Premier League’s Everton — took to Twitter, reposting a 2021 tweet criticising the Association for “becoming an eBay page to fill the pockets of criminals” without further comments.

The capital Sarajevo’s mayor, Benjamina Karić, reacted to the news of the match by stating that the city administration would end its support for the Association if it goes through with its plans to play the match in St Petersburg.

“Sarajevo, as the city which has been under the longest siege from aggressors, and I as its mayor strongly condemn the decision by the national Football Association to play a friendly match with Russia,” she posted on Twitter.

Sarajevo was besieged for 43 months between 1992 and 1995 during the Bosnian war — the longest siege in modern European history.

“Unless the decision is reversed, we will cease cooperation with the Football Association, which so far has been fruitful.”

Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic all said they would not play their World Cup qualifiers against Russia back in March before Russia’s national teams were banned from international competition.

Football’s global governing body FIFA and its European counterpart UEFA decided in February that all Russian teams, whether national or club sides, would be suspended from participation in FIFA and UEFA competitions after the invasion.

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