The World Cup is a special moment for any nation, its players, and its fans. For the men on the pitch, it's the culmination of four years of toil and sacrifice, jetting to virtually every corner of the world, playing in the most strenuous of circumstances, all for a shot at three matches, 270 minutes at minimum to prove your mettle. For the people in the stands, for those decked out in their nations colors standing in crowded piazzas, and for the young men bellowing in bar rooms, it's a chance to forget all the troubles that exist outside the referees whistle, a chance to prove that, no matter how broad your borders, you're among the elite of the world's most popular game.
Now, take all those factors and pin them against the dissolution of one nation and the creation of another, a bloody war barely two decades in the history books, then imbue that with a nation's budding sense of pride and national identity, and we can start to understand how monumental this World Cup is to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and their star playmaker Miralem Pjanic.
For the 23 men selected by Safet Sušić, this is no ordinary tournament. This World Cup, their debut on the global stage as an independent nation, is the first step towards forging an identity. Win, lose, or draw, the tenacity, grace, and skill with which Pjanic and his countrymen play will help write the narrative of a nation long on pride but short on history.
Bosnia and Herzegovina may be the debutants at this ball, but they have as much, if not more, to play for than any nation competing in Brazil. Beyond making a name for themselves, they have a chance to offer some solace to a nation recently plagued by everything from civil unrest to natural disasters.
Fortunately for the Dragons, the man leading the charge is well equipped, both in temperament and talent, to bring some relief, and perhaps even a bit of glory, to this budding Balkan nation. So let's have a quick look at what to expect from Miralem Pjanic at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Caps: 47 Goals: 8
Service for Bosnia and Herzegovina
Despite lining up for Luxembourg at the youth level, a brief stint in which he scored five goals in four games, including a four goal barrage versus Belgium, when it came to choosing which nation he'd represent at the senior level, the choice was simple, Pjanic always intended on playing for the nation of his birth.
Since making his debut for BIH in August of 2008, Pjanic has earned 47 caps and scored eight goals, including three during World Cup Qualifying. Throw in the two goals he scored during Bosnia and Herzegovina's qualification campaign for Euro 2012, and it's clear as day, Pjanic rises to the big occasions.
What makes him interesting
Beyond his flair for the dramatic and ability to bend a ball in Beckham-esque fashion, Pjanic has emerged as one of the game's greatest creators. Whether he's plying his trade for club or country, Pjanic is the engine that drives the offense, possessing the touch, intelligence and vision to create for his teammates all over the pitch. This past season, Pjanic was among Serie A's leaders in chances created and assists, while also chipping in six goals.
Speaking of which, as you just witnessed, Pjanic is quickly becoming one of the world's best free kick specialists and, as his goal against Milan showed, he's got agility and imagination enough to create his own scoring opportunities.
When Miralem Pjanic has the ball at his feet, good things happen; for himself, for his teammates and, soon, for his nation.
What to expect in Brazil
Pjanic, along with Manchester City's Edin Džeko, are the real bellwethers of this Bosnian side. Whatever measure of success the Dragons are able to achieve in Brazil will fall largely to feet of these two young men, and Pjanic, being the leader of the offense, will shoulder much of that burden.
Now that manager Safet Sušić has experimented with a lone striker set-up, Pjanic should have more support in midfield, thereby allowing him more freedom to orchestrate Bosnia's sometimes potent attack. Look for Pjanic to split opposing defenses from every conceivable angle in an attempt to feed Džeko up top.
Bosnia and Herzegovina may not have the deepest squad in the world, but with Pjanic steering the ship, they might have enough to advance to the knockout stages.