Qatar 2022 – Montenegro

Faruk Hadzibegic, Coach of Montenegro
© imago images

  • Faruk Hadžibegić has been Montenegro coach since July 2019
  • He transformed a dying team
  • He talks about his work, the Qatar 2022 draw and his past as a player

When Faruk Hadžibegić took over as Montenegro in July 2019, the Brave Falcons were in good spirits. Donkey hat of his group in the qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2021, the selection was swimming in the midst of a crisis and it took all the patience and humanity of the Bosnian to put this small country in working order, which for a few months reaps the fruits of its labor and achieves good results.

So much so that, according to the 63-year-old technician, Montenegro is ripe to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar, whose draw for the Europe Zone will take place on December 7. For, Hadžibegić talks about his work with the national team, his ambitions and his experience as a player at the 1990 World Cup with Yugoslavia.

Faruk Hadžibegić, in what state of mind did you arrive in Montenegro, in July 2019?

My feelings were mixed. I was returning to the territory of the former Yugoslavia where political tensions have never ceased to exist and where the situation of the national team generated a lot of stress, doubt and discouragement. The complexity of the situation made me ask myself questions but my love of football and the desire to find my roots was stronger.

In what state of mind did you find the team, which at the time had poor performances?

The team was unsettled by all these bad results, but I felt a group that wanted to get out of this situation. We needed to be together, to discuss, to spend time in the field. All the staff has come together around the team and today we have an extraordinary state of mind and working atmosphere.

The results took a while to come …

I have a lot of experience so I knew there were going to be difficult times at the start, mood swings… Everyone had to free themselves from the situation, and not only in sport, but also mentally. There were also some injured people, like Stevan Jovetić who is our technical leader. We had it all at once: crisis of confidence, crisis of results and injuries.

What objectives have been set for you by Dejan Savićević, President of the federation since 2006?

He did not give me any particular objective, other than to regain stability, confidence and an attachment to the national team. I played with him and against him in Yugoslavia. From the first to the last day of his career, he was recognized for his qualities, both human and football. He is the best president I have had in my entire career, in club and in selection. He knows football and only talks about it and he runs the federation with a family mindset, as if it was his home.

Montenegro's forward Stevan Jovetic (L) vies with England's midfielder Steven Gerrard (R)

Montenegro has only 600,000 inhabitants. Does this mechanically limit you in your possibilities?

The pool of players is necessarily very limited when you only have 100,000 licensees, compared to Spain, France or Germany where they number in millions. But we adapt. It is a difficulty but not a problem for me. When the team is full, which has never happened since I’ve been here, it has a chance against any team.

In what state of mind are you approaching the draw for the European qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup, on December 7?

My only wish for these qualifiers is to approach them in the best possible conditions, without injury or other problems. We are in a good dynamic. We’ll see what the draw will turn out to be, but I want to have an exciting squad with teams in the world top 10, with posters that will excite the players and the whole country. Montenegro is a sporting country, which has the culture of winning.

Do you think Montenegro is ripe to play a World Cup?

Yes, without any hesitation.

Is the qualification of Bosnia and Herzegovina, your country of origin, for Brazil 2014 a source of inspiration?

I participated in the reconstruction of the country and the selection after the war. They worked with great intelligence and courage. We analyze what our neighbors are doing and we move forward patiently. You have to be ambitious but not pretentious. But I think Montenegro is at the start of something extraordinary.

Are you the type to talk about your past as a player with your players?

Ah, never! I forbid myself. It’s another time. To say that I played with Maradona, Platini, Matthäus, Butragueño… what is it for? These are fond memories that I keep for myself, but an experience that I use to bring myself to the level of my players today.

What memories do you have of your journey with Yugoslavia at the 1990 World Cup in Italy?

It was an exceptional experience. We lived a great adventure full of emotions. I get chills just thinking about it. Mentally and physically, I was at the top. It was an Artists’ World Cup. Baggio with Italy, Higuita with Colombia, Spain with Butragueño… there were a lot of qualities in this World Cup.

What impact did your performance have in Yugoslavia, which was then on the brink of war?

We have always felt a lot of support from the fans. When we beat Spain in the round of 16, and without any pretension, for us it was quite normal. We had confidence in ourselves, we respected our opponent and we had the quality to beat them.

Then you faced Argentina in the quarterfinals. How do you feel, when you are a defender, at the idea of ​​facing Diego Maradona?

Diego was an exceptional player. It’s a pleasure to face one of the best players in the world, but especially after the game. During the match, we don’t have time to think about it. We were playing the reigning world champions, so we only looked at ourselves. But I saw that Maradona had an exceptional attitude, at the service of her team and with a very good state of mind and a lot of respect for us. I was admiring, but focused!

It was Yugoslavia’s last game on the international stage, and you missed the last shot on goal. Is it still painful?

For me, it remains a fact of the game. My character means that I put things in perspective a lot. I have regrets because I would have preferred to score. But today, everyone talks to me about it and remembers me for this penalty. There is a book that came out on it, a film… With the question: “was it my penalty that started the war?” (laughs). I take it very quietly. I have had 20 years of career and everyone remembers that. But I take it with a lot of love, and humor. I entered the history of the World Cup, and history itself, thanks to this penalty (laughs).

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