Soccer

Bosnians celebrate World Cup qualification

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP)

Wild celebrations broke loose Sarajevo's central square Tuesday after Bosnia qualified for its first World Cup as an independent nation.

Almost 10,000 delirious fans jumped, cried and screamed `Vamos Bosnia' - or `Go Bosnia' - when striker Vedad Ibisevic scored in the 68th minute to secure a 1-0 win over Lithuania at Kaunas.

Immediately after the match, the Bosnian players were seen on TV crying in each other's arms at Kaunas, prompting tears to roll down thousands of cheeks at streets and homes in Bosnia. Thousands of fans, meanwhile, headed to the airport to wait for their ''Dragons''.

''They have no idea what they have done to the people here,'' wept unemployed Salih Redzic, 52. ''We all need some `Brazil'. It's not even about soccer any more. It's about this feeling many of us have almost forgotten and the younger ones have never experienced. The feeling of success,'' he said.

Bosnia has been close before. It narrowly missed out on the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship, both times losing to Portugal in the playoffs. But the current team, led by Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and German-born playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic, made no mistake on Tuesday night.

For at least a while, they made their countrymen forget their nation's more than 25 percent unemployment, the low standard of living, the 47 million euro of EU's funds lost last week over internal political bickering.

''We are going to Brazil,'' the crowd was chanting and TV screens were flashing. That's all that mattered: to use the word `we' in combination with something synonymous to success.

For many Bosnians, football success has been a rare cause for celebration since the country descended into nearly four years of war two decades ago. The conflict killed over 100,000 people and left a legacy of poverty, high unemployment and never-ending political strife.

''We do not have other reasons to be happy,'' said Benjamin Saric, a 20 years-old student from Sarajevo who holds little hope of finding a job even when he graduates.

Occasionally, the noise of the fireworks were a reminder of the worst days of the wartime Sarajevo siege. Honking cars cruised the streets all night and people walked the city wrapped in blue and yellow flags.

Upon landing, the team came out singing songs about Bosnia. Usually serious coach Safet Susic joked with the press saying some of the players will be kicked out of the team because of their behavior in the plane. The team replied by singing an even louder a song about him.

''This is the happiest moment of my career,'' Susic stated before leaving the airport building and entering the bus taking the team to a party at the main square.

But even as the bus made its way to the celebration at 2 a.m., the team could see the jubilation throughout the city caused by their win.

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