Roma supporters may harbour only slim hopes their team can once again overturn a three-goal Champions League deficit, but Bosnian fans of Edin Dzeko are convinced their hero will once again rise to the challenge.
In Bosnia, Roma striker Dzeko is known as the “Dijamant” — diamond.
Dzeko is one of Sarajevo’s ‘war children’.
The day after scoring what would prove to be a crucial away goal at Barcelona in the quarter-finals, Dzeko posted on Facebook, not about the match but about the anniversary of the start of the siege of his home town, which began on April 5, 1992, when he had just turned six.
The siege lasted almost four years.
“In a city where you didn’t know if you were going to see your best friend tomorrow, whether you’d hug your father or your mother again, whether you’d open your eyes or even go out to play with your friends, I spent every one of those 1,425 days under siege,” Dzeko wrote.
Bombs rained down, Serbian snipers spared no-one. Of the estimated 11,000 deaths, between 1,500 and 1,600 were children.
– ‘I survived’ –
“I was lucky and I survived, while many of my peers were wounded or are no longer with us,” he added. “To them in remembrance, I dedicate my goal against Barcelona in the Champions League.”
Dzeko’s parents still live in Sarajevo, a city even now dealing with the shadow of the siege.
The Sarajevo Memorial for Children Killed during Siege opened in a city park in 2010 carrying the engraved names of victims that relatives come and touch. The War Childhood Museum opened in the town last year.
Even amid the violence, the young Dzeko went out to play in their neighbourhood of Otoka.
“When he went out to play football,” his mother Belma recalled in 2010, “I was very scared.
“I did not forbid him to go out to play, even if it was crazy. He was playing all the time, the war meant nothing to him.”
One day, she did say no.
“He was crying, it hurt me.” But, she said, “a shell fell exactly where Edin played with other children, there were dead, wounded”.
Although he’s gone on to play in some of Europe’s biggest football league’s, Dzeko has never forgotten his humble beginnings.
“Edin was often there when we needed him the most,” said Ligata, a Bosnian sports press advisor who ran through a list of the times when Dzeko showed an uncanny ability to make unlikely triumphs possible.
There was the 92nd minute equaliser against Queens Park Rangers in 2012 that made possible the 3-2 victory that won Manchester City’s first English title since 1968. There were the 26 goals in 2008/09 that propelled Wolfsburg to their only Bundesliga title.
At Zeljeznicar, the Sarajevo club where Dzeko started, his signature is on a wall and his name on a seat plaque, recognitions of donations to the renovation of a stadium which, during the war, was on the front line.
His first coach at Zeljeznicar, Jusuf Sehovic, remembers a little boy “interested only in going for goal… who kept calling for the ball” and was driven by “the will to work and the ambition to succeed”.