In November, Bosnia and Herzegovina will play Russia in a friendly match, the country's Football Association announced on its official website on Friday. The decision has sparked harsh criticism from Bosnia's star players and fans alike. The game is scheduled to take place in St Petersburg on 19 November, one day before the start of the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup. If the game goes ahead, it will mark the first time a European nation met Russia on the pitch since its national teams were barred from international competition over Moscow's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February. The decision to play friendly with Russia was made by the Association's urgency committee in an emergency session on Friday, with five votes for and one against.
Inter Milan's Edin Dzeko, who doubles up as the captain of the Bosnia and Herzegovina national team has openly criticized the decision and lashed 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," Dzeko said. "Unfortunately, I am not the one deciding 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," Dzeko concluded.
"The decision is not good. I am speechless,” Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic told local media. "The national Football Association [officials] know what I think," he added. 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. The national team goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who currently plays for Everton went to his tweeter account to repost a 2021 tweet criticizing the Association for "becoming an eBay page to fill the pockets of criminals" without adding any further comments.
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. The international and European governing bodies of football, FIFA and UEFA, agreed in February that all Russian teams, whether they were clubs or national teams, would be barred from competing in FIFA and UEFA events following the invasion. National team friendlies do not fall under the provision, however, and such matches are allowed as long as they are arranged between two recognized nations. The Russian FA has since scheduled two other friendlies with Iran and Azerbaijan, but playing against the world's 53rd strongest team would set a significant precedent.
While Russian media hailed the match as "the beginning of the end of Russian football's isolation," the Ukrainian FA appealed to UEFA and FIFA on Saturday to prevent the friendly. Furthermore, the Ukrainian national football body sent a letter to the Bosnian FA's executive committee, asking it to reconsider its decision because "it looks as if it is aimed at supporting the actions of the Russian government in Ukraine regarding the continuation of the war." "It is worth noting that the last match of the Ukrainian national team in peacetime was against your team on November 2021," the statement recalled. Until this moment, we were sure that your wonderful country remembers the horrors of the war of the 1990s and will not allow the repetition of this ... in the 21st century. Your decision to play a friendly match against a country that has ruined the lives of millions of people is surprising," the Ukrainian FA emphasized.
The Bosnian first-team players previously boycotted a friendly against Iran in November 2020, forcing the former coach Dusan Bajevic to bring out the B team. Iran won the game in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, 0-2. The national team's fans, known as BH Fanatikosi, came out with a statement posted on social media on Saturday, calling for the boycott of the match against Russia. The Bosnian Football Association has remained silent since the announcement, but the opinions within the national football governing body seem to be divided as well.