Asmir's world settled at last

BILL LANKHOF

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

Asmir Begovic has grown up as a citizen of the global village, but his heart belongs to Canada.

Canada's under-20 netminder was born in Yugoslavia, spent his childhood in Germany, grew up in Edmonton, plays professionally in England and, when he now visits his parents' home, it involves a plane ticket back to Stuttgart, Germany.

"I'm Canadian but I have a lot of homes because my friends are in Edmonton. I have a place in Portsmouth and my parents moved back to Germany to be closer to their relatives," Begovic said this week as the team prepared for today's tournament opener against Chile.

The Canadians will rely heavily on the 20-year-old to get them past the fast-paced South Americans.

Begovic has been a member of the team since he was 17, making his debut in a 1-0 loss to the U.S. He has played in 14 matches, conceding only one goal in his first five games.

Not bad for a kid whose first memories of soccer involve kicking a ball in the house because anyone sticking their head out the door might end up getting it shot off.

Begovic was born into a Bosnian Muslim family. His father, Amir, was a professional soccer goalie with the Leotar team near the predominantly Serbian town of Trebynje. His mother was in law school.

"They had good jobs and had to give them up," he said.

He doesn't remember much about the looting, the killing, the agony of a people torn apart by sectarian and religious zealots.

"I was only four when we moved to Germany," he said. "I was too young to understand or remember the horrid things that happened, which is probably a good thing. My parents decided it was best to get out of there ... they had to take most of the toll."

Young Asmir idolized his father.

"All I ever wanted to be was a goalkeeper like him," he said. "The other kids all wanted to score goals. I never did."

The family spent six years in Germany, where Asmir built a foundation in the sport. "It's where I started playing organized soccer," he said. "It was great there because the people love football and I got really good coaching. It's part of what got me here."

They might have loved football. But Bosnians? Not so much. So, when he was 10, Asmir was on the move again, this time to Edmonton with his father and mother.

"In Germany, they started to bring in rules that if you were Bosnian, you needed papers to live there.

"They weren't easy to get and my parents knew some people who'd moved to Canada, so they figured it was worth it."

Asmir grew into a tall, dark, handsome lad who, by the time he was 16, was as Canadian as maple syrup. By 18, he had signed his first pro contract with Portsmouth.

"It's funny. I don't have any memory of Bosnia," he said. "I was born there but I've never been back. Part of me feels a curious connection and I do want to go there some day and see where I was born. It would just be nice. But Canada is the main thing in my life."

He knows how much this tournament means, not just to the team, but to the country and his sport's future here.

"Growing up, you just wish you could play in something of this magnitude in Canada. It's going to help the next generation of kids," he said.

"It'll be an eye-opener that you can play soccer and that if you work very hard you can turn something you love into a profession. Canadians have never really had that when it comes to soccer."

Pressure? Part of the job, Begovic said.

"There is extra pressure because if you make a mistake it usually ends up in the back of the goal," he said. "For me, there is no better feeling in the world than making a good save. It makes me smile."

So it is in soccer as in life, that Begovic learned many years ago -- any time you can walk away with a smile, you've won.


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