Lionel Messi is recognized as the best soccer player in the world. But his coming to St. Louis to play for Argentina in an international friendly Nov. 18 is of secondary importance to tens of thousands of local soccer fans.
With about 70,000 Bosnians living in the St. Louis area … the largest concentration of Bosnians outside of Bosnia-Herzegovina itself … their excitement for the match comes from Argentina’s likely opponent: Bosnia-Herzegovina.
“It’s exciting to see those players we’ve always looked up to … Dzeko, Ibisevic, and everyone else on the Bosnian national team,” said Adnan Gabeljic, a senior forward on the St. Louis University soccer team whose family fled war-torn Bosnia and reached St. Louis in 1999 when he was 7. “It should be a really neat opportunity for the Bosnian community to see this.”
It is not certain that Bosnia will be Argentina’s opponent. Bosnia must qualify for the 2014 World Cup first. Bosnia is tied on points with Greece atop Group G and leads on goal differential. The Group G winner automatically qualifies; runners-up will go to playoffs for a chance to qualify. With two qualifying matches left against two relatively weak teams — Lichtenstein at home Oct. 11 and at Lithuania Oct. 15 — Bosnia should have little problem punching its ticket to St. Louis.
Greece faces a touch opponent in Slovakia Oct. 11, and plays Lichtenstein Oct. 15. A plus for the Greeks is that both matches are at home.
It gets complicated if Bosnia finishes second in Group G, one of nine
groups in European qualifying for the World Cup. The eight runners-up with the best records go to a playoff from Nov. 15-19. If Bosnia goes to the playoff round, it’s almost certain they would not play in St. Louis on Nov. 18. A replacement team for the match in St. Louis likely would be the Group G winner, Greece.
Bottom line: Bosnia must win Group G to play at Busch Stadium Nov. 18.
If that happens, it would be a major homecoming for Vedad Ibisevic, who came with his family to St. Louis as a teen-ager. He was the NCAA freshman player of the year at St. Louis University in 2003. He turned professional after his freshman season and plays for VfB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga.
“I was kind of skeptical that we would ever get to see Bosnia play here, but then we had the two international matches here this summer,” Gabeljic said. “People started talking about Bosnia coming here after that.”
After a six-year absence, international friendlies returned to St. Louis in a big way this year. Chelsea played Manchester City in the first soccer game ever at Busch Stadium on May 23 before a sellout crowd of 48, 263. The match sold out in 20 minutes after public ticket sales opened. Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo faced Inter Milan at the Edward Jones Dome on August 10 with 54,184 on hand. That crowd set a record for a soccer match in Missouri, breaking the previous mark set in Kansas City for a game between Sporting Kansas City and Manchester United.
Although the major tenants of Busch Stadium — the Cardinals — are busy with the Major League Baseball playoffs, the Cardinals’ ownership eagerly took on the Argentina friendly. “We were going to sit back and take it easy until 2014, but we could not resist the chance to have a game with these two teams,” said Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III. “We’re aggressively pushing the envelope, but at least we don’t have to work this match around the baseball schedule (as the Cardinals did for the Chelsea-Manchester City game.)”
Lionel Messi, who is injured but should be back in action long before the game at Busch Stadium, would be the major draw were this match to be staged in any other U.S. city. But not St. Louis, as long as Argentina’s opponent is Bosnia.
“We have enough Bosnians in St. Louis to fill up the stadium ourselves,” Gabeljic said.
SOURCE: Soccer Made in St. Louis
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