Serbians have every right to celebrate the nationistic pride that comes with their footballing teams’ success in reaching the World Cup finals. The break-up of the former Republic of Yugoslavia resulted in one of the bloodiest civil wars in recent history having a profound effect on every Serbian.
As Yugoslavia broke up into smaller states in the early 1990’s, Serbia & Montenegro made up the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Perversely, the biggest impact made by FRY on international football was their disqualification from the 1992 European Championships Finals due to UN sanctions. Their place was taken by Denmark, who amazingly then went on to be crowned champions. In 2006 Montenegro gained independence, resulting in the formation of the state of Serbia as we know it today. Both UEFA and FIFA recognise Serbia to be the successor to Yugoslavia and have passed on all its history to Serbia.
Prior to the political upheaval in the early 1990’s Yugoslavia held a respectable reputation in the world game. In all they have qualified for 8 World Cups, making the semi finals twice and the quarter finals 4 times. They were one of only four European teams that appeared in the inaugural world cup held in Uruguay in 1930, sensationally qualifying from their group at the expense of Brazil, before losing to the hosts and eventual champions in the semi final. Yugoslavia’s next appearance in the World Cup was again to be in South America, this time Brazil in 1950. But there was to be no repeat of the 1930 heroics and they were knocked out in the group stage despite winning 2 of their 3 games.
In 1954 Yugoslavia’s involvement ended in the quarter finals at the hands of subsequent champions West Germany. The West Germans knocked out the Yugoslav’s again 4 years later at the same stage after Yugoslavia had qualified from their group unbeaten.
The 1960’s proved to be a golden era. In 1962 the World Cup was hosted by Chile and saw the Yugoslav’s finish fourth with forward Dražan Jerković sharing the Golden Boot after netting 4 times. After negotiating a tough group the Yugoslav’s were again paired against West Germany in the quarter finals. This time a late Petar Radaković goal was enough to see Yugoslavia progress. This set up an all Slavic semi-final clash with Czechoslovakia with the Czech’s running out 3-1 winners. An interesting footnote to this match was the attendance of less than 7,000, caused by the host nation pressuring FIFA to switch venues after Chile’s unexpected run to the semi-final. Unfortunately Yugoslavia failed to build on this achievment, missing out on the next two finals.
The 1960’s also saw success on the European stage. Yugoslavia’s record in the European Championships is one that even the most ardent England fan would be envious of, chalking up 2 final appearances in the 1960’s either side of England’s 1966 World Cup success. In both games Yogoslavia came close to victory, losing to the USSR after extra time in 1960 and after a replay with Italy in 1968.
- A rare photo of the Yugoslavia starting XI for the 1968 European Championship Final against Italy
The next 3 decades was blessed with less success with only quarter final appearances in 1974 and 1990, the latter ending on penalties at the hand(s) of Maradona’s Argentina. This was also the last time that the team played as ‘Yugoslavia’ at the finals.
Serbia’s two appearances at the finals have been mixed, 1998 saw an elimination by Holland in the last 16. In 2006 they were again drawn against Holland, in the then proclaimed ‘Group of Death’ alongside, Argentina and the Ivory Coast. After a narrow loss to Holland in their first game came a 6-0 hammering at the hands of Argentina. The match will be remembered for a superb Argentine performance, epitomised by Esteban Cambiasso’s goal, which finished a move of 24 passes that was generally accepted as the best goal of the tournament. The defeat left the final game against the Ivory Coast meaningless. A 3-2 reverse, despite at one time leading 2-0 left Serbia bottom of their qualifying group.
Serbia supporters should arrive in South Africa confident that their team can make an impact on the world stage. Under the tutor ledge of the vastly experienced and by many highly regarded Raddy Antic they are playing attractive, attacking football and a quarter final place is a realistic goal.
I for one look forward to watching them over the coming weeks, and with a potential meeting in the last 16, Mr Capello beware.