RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — It truly is a horrific thought that not even the giant Maracana Stadium, filled to the brim with 74,000 people high on life and football, could fit all the dead from the Bosnia war. But their presence — in hearts, in memories — was felt as the young nation they never lived to enjoy made its World Cup debut, the 77th country to plant its flag on football's biggest stage.
"This is why we came, to remember," Adnan Filipovic said as he filed into the stadium with his parents, his voice breaking with emotion. "All those people are coming with us to this game."
When the 1992-1995 war made refugees of the Filipovics and so many others, never did they think they'd one day see Bosnians teamed together, in Brazil of all places, giving two-time world champion Argentina and its superstar Lionel Messi a tough bone to chew.
The morning of Sunday's match, Filipovic prepared by looking at photos of the conflict on the Internet, to remind himself how far he and Bosnia have come and why this warm Rio de Janeiro night was such an important milestone. The conflict killed more than 100,000 people, turned half of the country's population of 4.3 million into refugees and left a legacy of poverty, high unemployment and never-ending political strife.
"We're all looking for some closure here. I think that's really what it is," said Filipovic, who was 11 when his family fled Banja Luka, in northern Bosnia, in 1994. They wound up in the United States, in Augusta, Georgia, and built a new life.
"In these things there is never a winner, there is no 'victory.' I don't even know what victory is — until today. I know for our flag to be in Maracana is — I don't how else to define it — some kind of victory."
For a debut, Bosnia couldn't have asked for better: a marquee opponent in the World Cup's marquee stadium. The result — 2-1 to Argentina — wasn't what Bosnians wanted, although, if they are honest, they probably feared worse.
Bosnia's scorer was Vedad Ibisevic. When Serb soldiers murdered his grandfather and burned down his father's village, his mother hid him and his sister in a fox-hole she dug in the woods. Ibisevic came on as a second-half substitute and planted his goal in the 85th minute.
Ibisevic was already a hero to Bosnians. His goal in a 1-0 win over Lithuania last October punched Bosnia's ticket to Brazil. Now he'll also forever be the first Bosnian to score a World Cup goal.
Edin Dzeko, the striker Bosnians call their "diamond" — forged under great pressure — wasted his best chance, sending his left-footed shot over the bar in the first half. Dzeko lived through the siege of Sarajevo, when Bosnian Serb forces shelled and fired on the city daily, killing over 11,000 people. He describes his early childhood as "nothing but fighting, war and bullets."
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