It's not long now until the Opening Ceremonies fade away and the 2014 World Cup kicks off in São Paulo. You've likely already decided on which country's flags you'll be painting on your cheeks, or whose scarf is going to be weighing scratchily around your neck.
Decided, or had it decided for you, I suppose. Some people really go in for that "country of my birth" thing. Which is a shame, because some of the other countries are so much fun. I'm here to convince you to adopt Bosnia and Herzegovina during the World Cup. Or at least cheer them on as a second team. Think about it: there are fifteen glorious days of group-stage matches ahead. Your chosen side plays on just three of them. What will you do with all that leftover facepaint?
To convince you to cheer on Bosnia, I could tug at your heartstrings. Many previews have done just that. And it would make such a perfect Disney movie, wouldn't it? Country declares independence. Country is consumed by bloody war, a war that ended not even twenty years ago, and left around 100,000 dead. During that war, many of the country's citizens take flight, settling in Switzerland, Germany, the United States. Then along comes the Bosnian national team, picking up the scattered pieces of the diaspora and forming them into a coherent unit that finally manages to qualify for its first World Cup. Best of all, that squad includes players from all three of Bosnia's major ethnic groups, the very ones that were fighting the war not so long ago!
I could do that. But life is not a Disney movie, and Bosnia likely won't be lifting the Cup while Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks stand, arms wrapped around each other, tears of joy streaming down their faces. To depict Bosnia as a united nation, standing behind this team that has given them hope like nothing else since their declaration of independence, would be both too easy and kind of ridiculous. Reality, as always, is more subtle, more complex.
So rather than cheering on Bosnia based on a shiny, faintly ludicrous story spun by those who adore a good narrative, why not support them for a much better reason? That's right, I'm talking about the way they play football.
The Zmajevi have a little something to offer for every sort of football fan. If you're looking for world-class goalkeeping, they have that in Stoke's Asmir Begovic. If you want a true, old-school forward who's fantastic at scoring goals, your man is Eden Dzeko. And if you love attacking midfielders that dazzle with their trickery, you'll want to be watching Miralem Pjanic.
Previously, many thought that Bosnia would be all sparkle, and would lack the much needed bite to stop, say, Argentina, who they face in their first match. But, after two disastrous friendlies (one against Argentina) manager Safet Sušić has made a couple necessary adaptations. The most important change is the introduction of Muhamed Bešić, a proper holding midfielder. Bešić's play might not cause you to shriek with glee, but his inclusion gives more reason to believe that Bosnia will make it out of the group stages.
But maybe you were lucky enough to be born in a country that already plays exciting football. Maybe you're a fan of Brazil's rhythm, Switzerland's precision, or Chile's chaos. In that case, you need further inducements.
Might I introduce you to my close friend, ćevapčići?
That's right, the national dish of Bosnia and Hercegovina is a great big pile of meat, served up with pillows of squishy bread that's perfect for soaking up all that delicious greasiness. And while you could pair it with an ice-cold Jelen, or a Sarajevsko to make it more authentically Bosnian, I suggest you partake in the national beverage, as well. Rakija is commonly translated as "brandy", but this isn't the 30% alcohol swirled in sniffers on Frasier. Wikipedia puts this alcohol at 40%, but trust me, homemade versions are more like 50%-60% ABV. The most common type is slivovica, or plum brandy, but my favorite is kajsija, made from apricots. If you're a bit of a wimp, and prefer your alcohol to taste less of lighter fluid, you can have medovača (honey) or višnjevača (cherry).
And one of the best parts about adopting a new national team is that you're free to adopt its people, as well. This is excellent news, as the people of Bosnia are some of the best on the planet when it comes to hospitality. Make friends, and suddenly, you have a new member of your family. Sure, this could mean you're subjected to the same sort of probing questions regarding marriage or babies that you get from your own blood relatives, but it also means they'll bring you out to their weekend cabin on the river, sit you down, pile your plate high with meat, dig out the homemade rakija, and generally make sure you're unable to walk at the end of the evening.
If we're being honest here, isn't that what we all need from a World Cup team? A side that's got the ability to dazzle its supporters, but a people that know how to brew the good stuff, so at least you're able to forget if it all goes wrong.