Asmir Begovic: I am proud to play for Bosnia, country has been through a lot

Stoke's goalkeeper has seen team-mates prepare for World Cups and now he is delighted it is his turn as he heads for Brazil

Asmir Begovic has spent a challenging season adapting to the demands of a new manager and successfully helping Stoke City to their highest Premier League finish, all the while knowing that summer brings a new challenge in Brazil. Begovic has never been to a World Cup before, Bosnia-Herzegovina have never been to a World Cup before, but for a refugee who left war-torn Yugoslavia at the age of four to make a new life with his parents in Germany and then Canada there is a satisfyingly circular process to making a fresh start at a major tournament.

"It's been a bit of a strange season, normally you are winding down to the last week or two, this time there's something big in summer to look forward to," Begovic says. "I'm sure by the time everything is said and done we will all feel exhausted and a little but drained, but it will be worth it and there will be time to recharge. It's been fun too, having a World Cup to look forward to is pretty exciting. I've seen other players doing it and now I'm doing it myself. I've no complaints about that."

Having risen through the youth ranks in Canada to earn call-ups for junior representative teams, the 26-year-old goalkeeper had a choice to make when his burgeoning career in England made it clear he was going to be in international demand. "I had a choice between Bosnia and Canada and it was quite a difficult one," he explains.

"I spent a very important part of my childhood in Canada, between the age of 10 and 16 is when you are growing up. I got used to the life there, made a lot of friends, got citizenship there and began to represent the national teams at youth level, but Bosnia was always in the back of my mind as well.

"You never know whether the opportunity is going to arise, and when it came up, because I hadn't been capped by Canada and it was still up to me to make a decision, I discussed it with my family and decided to accept the offer. Family played a big part, my parents are in Germany but a lot of my family live in Bosnia, most of my aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins.

"I feel I am representing them and I am happy they can share this whole experience through me. That was a big motivation. I don't have any firm memories of my own time in the country, I was too young when we left, but I have been back quite a lot. The connection was strong, and I did involve my family, but ultimately it was a football decision.

"Playing for Bosnia allows you to play in much more competitive games. You are in Europe rather than in the Concacaf region, and that's where the heartbeat of football is. You play European qualifiers, tougher friendlies, and you don't travel quite so much. It was the best decision from all points of view and I think it has worked out pretty well."

Begovic speaks like a Canadian, speaking fluent, precise English with a confidence that would undoubtedly put some of his team-mates' communication skills to shame, though he has always considered himself Bosnian, and is grateful for the chance to play for the newish nation. "I'm very proud to represent Bosnia," he says. "The country has been through a lot of tough times, there's no secret about that, but this is the first major tournament for myself, and for Bosnia, it's all new and it's going to be great. Everyone involved is looking forward to the whole experience, we are all determined to make the most of it."

That may not be quite as easy as it sounds, Bosnia having been drawn in a group containing Argentina, Nigeria and Iran, but the national coach, Safet Susic, has just set his side the goal of reaching the second round and Begovic agrees that it might just be possible. "We are in a difficult group, but being realistic we were never going to get an easy one," he says. "There are three very different teams and styles of play in our group so we are going to have to be ready each time, and prepared for what to expect. But it is a World Cup, you can only expect tough games."

Begovic is one of the few names in the Bosnian squad familiar to most English fans, the other being Edin Dzeko of Manchester City, though Stuttgart's Vedad Ibisevic also has a reputation as a goal​scorer and when it comes to marking Lionel Messi the side will look to Muhamed Besic of Ferencvaros. "He is the only player among the 23 who could stop Messi," Susic has said.

Begovic is not sure whether Bosnia should lose sleep worrying about Argentina, when it seems more likely they could take points from the other two teams. "We are a very small nation and we need to make sure we enjoy the whole experience," he says.

"We want to grow stronger from it, take home the positives, hopefully qualify for subsequent tournaments. We are not one of those teams that is under massive expectation to do well, so we should try and make that work for us. But on the other hand within the squad there's a natural, competitive expectation too.

"We want to perform well, get out of the group, post a few good results. To reach the knockout stages is obviously the dream scenario, and then anything can happen. We know we have some quality in the team and we could surprise a few people. We have guys playing all over Europe, and in the last few years some of our players have started to play for bigger clubs in better environments. We now have guys playing in Germany and Italy, and their experience makes the team stronger.

"So I don't see why we shouldn't be capable of a surprise in Brazil. If you look at our last couple of qualifying campaigns, for instance, you can see improvement. We lost against Portugal in the play-off the time before but we took them to the wire. It goes without saying that you need a bit of luck in a tournament, you need things to go your way, but if we get that I don't see why we shouldn't do well. We go there with nothing to lose, no one is expecting us to do too much, but as long as we believe in ourselves we have a chance."

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