Pjanic and Dzeko lead backlash over planned Bosnia friendly with Russia

The Bosnia and Herzegovina men’s national football side are set to play a friendly against Russia in November, sparking fierce criticism from two of the nation’s most high-profile players, Edin Dzeko and Miralem Pjanic.

The game is scheduled to take place in St Petersburg on 19 November, the day before the 2022 World Cup is scheduled to start in Qatar. The Bosnia Football Association announced the fixture on its official website on Friday, but Pjanic, one of the Balkan nation’s best-known players, was quick to make his feelings known.

“The decision is not good. I am speechless,” Pjanic was quoted as saying by Bosnian media. “In the national FA, they know what I think.” Russia’s national teams were barred from international competition earlier this year over the invasion of Ukraine.

Pjanic, who is 32, has made 107 international appearances since his debut in 2008. Following spells with Roma, Juventus and Barcelona, he joined Sharjah FC in the United Arab Emirates at the end of the summer transfer window.

Dzeko, the current national team captain, also appears to have ruled himself out of the match. “I am against the playing of this match; I am always and only for peace,” the forward said in quotes reported by the Bosnian news website Klix.

“I have my position which is clear and which does not include playing this match, while innocent people are suffering,” added the former Manchester City and Roma forward, who is currently at Inter. “I stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in these difficult times for them.”

The mayor of Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, also reacted negatively on social media to the decision. Benjamina Karic tweeted: “Sarajevo, as the city which has been under the longest siege from aggressors, and me as a mayor strongly condemn the decision by the national FA to play a friendly match with Russia.”

Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic all said they would not play men’s World Cup qualifiers against Russia in March, before Russia’s national teams were banned from international competition. Bosnia did not qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

Fifa and Uefa then decided in February that all Russian teams, whether national or club sides, would be suspended from participation in their competitions after the invasion, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Russia have not played a senior men’s international match since the World Cup qualifying loss to Croatia last November. The Russian football federation has recently announced friendlies in Kyrgyzstan on 24 September, and against Iran in November.