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Soccer Returns to Bosnia Today
Conditions Safe Enough for
Exhibition Game with Albania

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — International soccer finally comes to Bosnia when the home team takes on fellow Balkan minnow Albania in an exhibition game Wednesday. Four months into a peace deal that ended almost four years of war, the Bosnians have decided it is safe enough to host visiting teams — helped by the presence of a 60,000-strong NATO-led peaceforce. That the nation’s shell- and mortar-pocked main stadium in Sarajevo is unusable is a minor snag. The game will be played in the modest surroundings of the central Bosnian town of Zenica, 30 miles northwest of the capital.

Less simply resolved, however, is the problem facing Bosnian coach, Fuad Muzurovic, in his quest to assemble a team. Many of the best pre-war players from Bosnia have either quit or were part of the one-million-strong refugee exodus from the war-wrecked nation. Rewarded with the captaincy, Barcelona striker Meho Kodro will turn out for the inexperienced Bosnian team. Others, citing club commitments or injuries, are less inclined. "I asked nearly all our guys playing abroad to return for this game,” Muzorovic said, “but very few of them are coming.” Instead, Muzorovic will select a team from Bosnia’s infant national league that comprises mainly recently demobilized soldiers and policemen. “These players deserve to be selected as they have gone through the hell of war,” he said.

But Bosnian Serbs Don't Make the Team
Rebel Bosnian Serbs, until recently the very real foe of many of the team’s players, are not included in Muzorovic’s plans. They have established their own rival soccer league and have not made players available for selection. Bosnian Serb soccer star Savo Milosevic, who plays for the English club Aston Villa, long ago opted to play for the Serb-dominated Yugoslav national team.

In a telling sign of Bosnian society’s drift away from multi-ethnic co-existence, 17 members of the 18-man squad selected to face Albania are Muslim. There are no Serbs and only one Bosnian Croat. “The time just isn’t right yet,” said Almir Sokolovic, a sports writer with the Sarajevo daily ’Avaz’. “Maybe, sometime in the future.”

Meantime, Europe’s youngest international soccer team is looking to avenge the 0-2 defeat it suffered against Albania in Tirana last December in its only previous international game. Muzorovic said such exhibition games are essential if Bosnia is to stand any chance of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup in France. He has until Sept. 1, when Bosnia travels to Athens to take on Greece in the country’s first qualifying game, to create a cohesive team.

World Cup soccer will arrive in Bosnia the following month when neighbor Croatia is slated to play in the yet-to-be-renovated national stadium in Sarajevo.

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