SARAJEVO, Bosnia (AP) – Bosnian flags and blue-and-yellow hats colored the streets of Sarajevo on Monday as the young nation readies to celebrate World Cup qualification.
Bosnia leads its group on goal difference and will earn an automatic place at next year's tournament in Brazil with a win in Lithuania on Tuesday, and public enthusiasm could hardly be higher.
The team, led by Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko and German-born playmaker Zvjezdan Misimovic, celebrated its latest victory with a fireworks display at Bilino Polje Stadium in Zenica after beating Liechtenstein with four goals in 12 minutes.
But Bosnia has been close before.
It has twice been denied a place at a major championship - the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship - losing to Portugal in the playoffs. And on Monday, team officials pleaded for calm.
''We understand the desires and patriotic feeling felt by all fans, but excessive euphoria is not something we need at the moment,'' the Bosnian Football Association said in a statement.
To the disappointment of an estimated 10,000 traveling fans, no celebration has been organized in advance.
Bosnia and higher-ranked Greece are level in Group G with 22 points and identical 7-1-1 records, but the Bosnians lead after scoring 29 goals and conceding six, compared to the cautious Greeks' tally of 10-4.
Greece has the easier task Tuesday, hosting Liechtenstein, and defensive midfielder Costas Katsouranis returned from suspension to say that the pressure would be on his group rivals.
''We are ready for the playoffs but let's see what happens in the other match,'' Katsouranis said. ''Let us win our own game and we'll see.''
For many Bosnians, football success has been a rare cause for celebration since the country descended into nearly four years of war two decades ago, killing more than 100,000 people and leaving a legacy of poverty, high unemployment and never-ending political strife.
''I'm fed up with bad news. Let me enjoy this success for least a short while until reality hits me again,'' said Mirsad Besic, an unemployed 40-something wall painter who has lost all hope of finding a job and decent prospects for retirement.
Serbs and Croats in ethnically-split Bosnia typically support the national teams of their neighbors.
But with Serbia already eliminated and Croatia struggling, many are being drawn to attacking game of a Bosnian team whose players are based in 13 different countries with a qualification scoring record level with England and only bettered in Europe by the Netherlands (32) and Germany (31).
Bosnia coach Safet Susic remains a widely respected figure across the former Yugoslavia, once a valuable attacking midfielder in its national side who spent most of his club and coaching career abroad.
Djana Trbic, a 38-year-old Sarajevan, was reduced to tears when she heard residents in the Serb-dominated city of Banja Luka - Sarajevo's wartime enemy - had publically stated their support for the Bosnian team.
''I guess everybody loves winners. I guess success unites people,'' Trbic said. ''Will it really be soccer and this great team we have that will united this country at least a bit?''
Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece.