Edin Dzeko heads into the World Cup fresh from finally establishing himself at Manchester City, where he played a key role in securing the Premier League title.
The 28-year-old Bosnian had an explosive start to a season of two distinct halves in which he scored 16 goals.
He scored four against Tottenham Hotspur and two against arch-rivals Manchester United at the start of the campaign, suffered a dramatic dip in form and then made a spectacular comeback, hitting five goals in the crucial three-game run in to the title.
The 1.93-metre (6ft 4ins) tall striker has become a huge favourite wherever he has played in his rags to riches story.
As a child, Dzeko endured the siege of Sarajevo and spent three war-stricken years living in a one-bedroom apartment with a dozen relatives.
Having started with FK Zeljeznicar Sarajevo, Dzeko became a goalscorer with Czech side Teplice and was spotted by German side Wolfsburg, who made him a European star.
Dzeko’s goals took Wolfsburg to fifth place in the table in his first season and in the following campaign his 26 goals in 29 games, alongside the equally-prolific Grafite, now playing in the UAE with the Arabian Gulf League club Al Ahli, brought a stunning German title and the Bundesliga Players’ Player of the Year award.
City’s cash won over Dzeko in January 2011 – he was signed for $45 million (Dh165.2m) – and at first he thought England would be a perfect theatre for his physical style and dominating presence. But the goals did not come and doubts crept in.
“I have to admit it was very tough for me in the opening few months in Manchester because everything was so different and I wondered if I could ever adapt to what was expected of me,” he said in one interview later.
“Every game in England is a real battle, the pace of the game is tough to get used to, and my confidence was not there at the start. I also had to understand how the referees worked in this country, as they allowed much more physical contact than I was used to in Germany,” he said.
“You feel the need to prove yourself in a team full of so many stars and the attention is all on Manchester City right now. We are the team that everyone talks about for spending so much money and you don’t want to be the guy who falls short in this story.”
The goals came and Dzeko has been an integral part of the City team that won English titles in 2011/12 and again this year.
He has had to come through long spells sitting on the bench for his club, but he has stuck it out and it won’t be the same playing for Bosnia in Group F at the World Cup against Argentina, Iran and Nigeria.
Bosnia and Herzegovina are playing in their first World Cup finals and the nation has sky-high hopes.
Dzeko cried with joy after Bosnia beat Lithuania in October to seal first place in their qualifying group.
“To be there the first time in Brazil would be amazing for the players, for the people, for the whole country,” he said after the game.
Off the pitch, Dzeko, a Muslim, has not forgotten his experiences in wartime Bosnia. He is an ambassador for the UN Children’s Fund and talks in schools in his homeland seeking to overcome lingering divisions between the country’s ethnic groups.
“Many of the schools are divided. It’s like two schools in one, with the Bosnians on one side and the Croats on the other.
“I go there to try to persuade them to come together and mix, because the war led to mistrust and hate, so things are difficult.”
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