Serbia-Montenegro's appearance in the 2006 World Cup marked a disappointing last gasp for the once-proud tradition of Yugoslav football. SETImes correspondent Georgi Mitev-Shantek looks back.
By Georgi Mitev-Shantek for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 21/06/06
Serbia-Montenegro players pose before their World Cup match against Argentina on 16 June at Gelsenkirchen. [Getty Images]
The 2006 World Cup in Germany marked the first and last appearance of Serbia-Montenegro at the event, just as France 1998 saw the last of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Before that came the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and -- back in 1920 -- the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, whose team played its first international match against Czechoslovakia, another country that no longer exists.
Luckily, changing names isn't the only thing football in the former Yugoslavia is known for. In the Euro 2008 qualifications, we may expect to see teams competing from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia and perhaps even Kosovo. They are the modern-day heirs to a distinguished tradition.
The national team appeared in 10 World Cups, reaching the semifinals at two of them. It made the Euro finals twice, and also boasted an impressive record at the Olympics – one gold, three silvers, and one bronze.
Starting with the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, the former Yugoslavia was a significant force in international football. The "Beli Orlovi" (White Eagles) beat Brazil and went onto the semifinals, where Uruguay beat them 6-1 -- though in a strange game against more than 11 opponents. Uruguay's first goal came when a policeman on the sidelines shot the ball back into play.
After that baptism of fire, Yugoslavia rose steadily towards the top of the rankings, peaking in the 1950s and 1960s. The golden age came to an end in the 1970s, though fans thrilled at a resurgence in 1987 -- when the junior team won the world championship in Chile -- and again at the 1990 World Cup in Italy. The team that went to Chile was made up primarily of Croatian players, led by Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki.
Italy 1990 saw a brilliant team selected by the Bosnian Ivica Osim, probably the best Yugoslav coach ever. It faced title defender Argentina, playing 60 minutes with one man short after Sabandzovic got a red card marking the great Maradona. The valiant battle ended with penalty kicks and Argentina prevailed.
In the following years, international sanctions cut Yugoslavia out of world football. The cost was evident in 1998, when the Yugoslav team made it only as far as the second round. Their former teammates, Croatia, went on to become the surprise stars of the event. The team then sat out 2002 after having drawn 1-1 with Slovenia in the final qualification match.
At Germany 2006, the Yugoslav legacy is represented by two teams -- Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro -- and four coaches. Besides Zlatko Kranjcar and Ilija Petkovic, there are also Branko Ivankovic, leading the Iranian team, and Ratomir Gane Dujkovic, who made an excellent selection for Ghana.
Absent from the tournament is the legendary Bora Milutinovic, who led teams from five different countries to the last five World Cups, including the United States in 1994 and China in 2002. The success of these coaches is probably the best testament of how strong the Yugoslav school of football once was.