The Serbia national football team represents Serbia in international football competitions and is controlled by the Football Association of Serbia. Both FIFA and UEFA consider the Serbia national team the direct descendant of the Serbia and Montenegro national football team and the SFR Yugoslavia national football team.
Serbian national team was previously known as the Yugoslavia national football team from 15 January 1992 until 4 February 2003, and then as the Serbia and Montenegro national football team until 3 June 2006 when Serbia declared independence as the successor state to the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.
It was officially renamed the Serbia national football team on 28 June 2006, while the Montenegro national football team was created to represent the new state of Montenegro.
Serbia plays Belgium at Marakana, 7 October 2006. Between 1921 and 1992, the team did not exist as we know it today, since Serbia was part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918 – 1943) and later on, of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945 – 1991).
The Serbia national team existed from 1919 to 1921, but ceased to exist following the creation of the first Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
However, the Football Association of Serbia is a FIFA member since 1921 and a UEFA member since its creation in 1954.
The Serbia national team is recognized, thanks to a mutual consent between both FIFA and UEFA, as the direct descendant of the Yugoslavia national team. Hence, the new national team formed in 1992 inherited of the full status, results, and achievements from Yugoslavia, which was not the case for any other country resulting from the breakup of Yugoslavia. Consequently, it did not have to apply to obtain a FIFA and UEFA status.
A similar situation happened following Montenegro's decision to secede following a referendum held on 21 May 2006.
Once more, Serbia inherited of the Serbia and Montenegro full status, and did not have to apply for a FIFA and UEFA status, while Montenegro was obligated to do so.
THE BEGINNINGS AND THE 1998 FIFA WORLD CUP
Although the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was formed on 28 April 1992, its teams were banned from all international sporting events, including the national football team.
Consequently, the national team did not play its first game as a new country before 23 December 1994, a friendly match played in Porto Alegre and in which Brazil won by the mark of 2 – 0.
This was the first ever team composed of Serbian and Montenegrin players exclusively, while Slobodan Santrac, a former Yugoslavia national team player, was named the team's first ever manager.
The next game was played only three days later, this time in Buenos Aires, resulting in 1 – 0 loss to Argentina.
Despite two losses in two games, the team was honoured to play its first two games ever against such football powerhouses.
Also due to the United Nations international sanctions, the team could not take part in the 1994 FIFA World Cup qualification, nor the UEFA Euro 1996 qualifying process.
On 31 March 1991, the team recorded its first official win in history, a 1 – 0 friendly against Uruguay, simultaneously marking the team's first ever home game, played at Stadion Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade, and the first ever goal scored, courtesy of Savo Miloševic.
Slightly more than one year later, the team recorded its first ever win in a FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament in its first game in such a tournament, a 3 – 1 win over the Faroe Islands.
Shortly after, the team also recorded its biggest win in history, once again against the Faroe Islands, 8 – 1.
Yugoslavia finished second in Group 6, just behind Spain, meaning it had to go through the play-off system in order to qualify.
Yugoslavia was paired up with Hungary, and what was believed would be a tough matchup turned out to be an easy win for Yugoslavia, 7 – 1 in Budapest and 5 – 0 in Belgrade, for an aggregate score of 12 – 1.
This was enough to secure Yugoslavia its first ever FIFA World Cup appearance as a new country.
The 1998 FIFA World Cup seeding had Yugoslavia ranked in 21st position, but the Yugoslav national football team went to France as one of the shadow favorites for the World Cup.
The justification for such an estimation was partially found in the names of the Yugoslav players, members of great European teams and proven footballers. The draw put the team in Group F alongside Germany, the United States, and Iran.
Yugoslavia won its first game 1 – 0 against Iran thanks to a goal from defender Siniša Mihajlovic. The next game was a heartbreaker for Yugoslavia.
After leading Germany 2 – 0, last game's hero, Mihajlovic, scored an unlucky own goal following a German freekick, and Oliver Bierhoff equalised at 2 – 2 with only about ten minutes to the match.
Nonetheless, Yugoslavia responded in the next game against the United States and won 1 – 0 due to an early goal in Nantes.
Yugoslavia made easy work of Group 6, but despite an excellent record, the game against Germany would prove costly as Germany won the group thanks to a better goal difference.
Due to their second position, Yugoslavia saw itself face the Netherlands in the Round of 16. Yugoslavia entered in the match with a sole attacker, but its defensive tactics proved unsuccessful as Dennis Bergkamp put the Netherlands in front in the 38th minute.
Immediately following the start of the second half, Yugoslavia pressured the Dutch, who inevitably conceded a header from Slobodan Komljenovic.
However, the turning point of this match was be a penalty awarded to Yugoslavia after Vladimir Jugovic was fouled in the penalty area. Predrag Mijatovic's shot dazzled Edwin van der Sar, but not the crossbar, and the scoreline remained the same at 1 – 1.
Such an event demoralized the Yugoslavs, as the Dutch took the initiative. In the late seconds of the game, as everybody was preparing for extra time, Edgar Davids shot towards the Yugoslav net from a distance of 20 meters and beat goalkeeper Ivica Kralj, to the pure disbelief of the Yugoslav players and fans. This marked the end of Yugoslavia's run in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, since there was not much time left to do anything.
Unlucky events forced Yugoslavia out of the tournament, but the team definitely demonstrated its great ability and proved it had a spot among the world's best teams. This was also reflected in the FIFA World Rankings following the 1998 FIFA World Cup, in which Yugoslavia was constantly ranked in the Top 10 for a long period of time.
The draw for Euro 2000 qualifiers saw many eyebrows raised as first-seeded Yugoslavia was drawn in a group with Croatia, thus marking the first games between the two teams after the breakup of Yugoslavia. Other teams in the group were Republic of Ireland, Macedonia, and Malta.
The coach of the national team first was Milan Živadinovic, while Vujadin Boskov took over after his resignation.
Due to the NATO bombing of the country that started on 24 March 1999, Yugoslavia played its home fixture against Malta in Thessaloniki, Greece, winning 4 – 1.
The two highly anticipated games versus Croatia both ended in draws. First game in Belgrade ended with a scoreline 0 – 0 (the game was interrupted due to power outage at the beginning of the second half and resumed after 43 minutes), while the other (which was the last fixture of the qualifying stage) ended 2 – 2 in Zagreb.
The latter result however amounted to victory as was enough for Yugoslavia to secure a direct qualifying berth and knock Croatia out of European championship.
The draw for the Finals placed Yugoslavia in group C along with Spain, Norway, and Slovenia. The first game against Slovenia saw yet another former Yugoslav republic take a surprising 3 – 0 lead at Stade du Pays de Charleroi, but Yugoslavia managed to equalise by scoring three goals in only six minutes in mid-second half.
The team's only victory in the tournament came in the second game versus Norway in Liège, thanks to an early Savo Miloševic backheel strike. Final group game in Bruges was another high-scoring, but ultimately heartbreaking for Yugoslavia, as Spain won 4 – 3 with two late goals, despite the Yugoslavs taking the lead three times.
Yugoslavia ended the group in second place, as Norway failed to defeat Slovenia in Arnhem. In each of the three games, Yugoslavia had one player sent off (Siniša Mihajlovic, Mateja Kežman, and Slaviša Jokanovic, respectively).
In the quarter-finals, Yugoslavia was once again paired with Netherlands. Unlike the last time, the co-hosts made easy work of Yugoslavia, winning 6 – 1 in Rotterdam with Patrick Kluivert scoring a hat trick.
One of the few bright spots of Yugoslav team in the whole tournament was Savo Miloševic, who was crowned the joint top scorer of the tournament, alongside Patrick Kluivert. Both players scored five goals, although Miloševic played one game fewer.
2002 FIFA WORLD CUP
The 2002 qualifiers marked the first time that Yugoslavia failed to reach a major tournament ever since its return to the big stage after the UN sanctions.
The problems started with the major political turmoil in the country as well in the Yugoslav FA, which prompted the new coach Ilija Petkovic to resign only after one game (2 – 0 away victory against Luxembourg).
Milovan Ðoric took over the team, but under his leadership, the team managed only two draws (1 – 1 at home vs. Switzerland and also 1 – 1 away in Slovenia, in both games the opponents managed to equalise in late stages of the game) and a 0 – 1 home loss to Russia (which marked the team's first, and to this date only home defeat in official matches).
After Ðoric's resignation, a three-man commission, consisting of Dejan Savicevic, Vujadin Boškov, and Ivan Curkovic, took over the coaching duties, until Savicevic ultimately took over on his own.
The team managed to bounce back with a draw in Russia and a win in Switzerland, but failed to defeat Slovenia in the penultimate game, thus ended the qualifiers in third position.
Another failure came in the Euro 2004 qualifiers while competing for the first time as Serbia and Montenegro.
Despite drawing both games against group favorites and eventual group winners Italy and winning both games against runner-ups Wales, Serbia and Montenegro failed to qualify, mostly due to embarrassing 2 – 2 home draw and 2 – 1 away loss to Azerbaijan.
2006 FIFA WORLD CUP
Serbia and Montenegro began their 2006 World Cup campaign by finishing first with an undefeated record in their qualification group ahead of favourites Spain.
The Serbia and Montenegro team also allowed only one goal in the 10 matches, the best defensive record out all 51 teams participating in qualification.
In the group stage, Serbia and Montenegro lost their opening game to joint group favourite, the Netherlands. The final score was 1 – 0 after Arjen Robben scored the only goal of the game.
They also lost their second game to Argentina 6 – 0, the country's worst ever international result.
With the team's two losses and with Netherlands and Argentina winning both their games, Serbia and Montenegro could no longer qualify for the knockout matches, and was playing for pride alone in their final group game against Côte d'Ivoire.
Despite having a 2 – 0 lead for much of the first half, the Elephants managed to come back and win 3 – 2, leaving Serbia and Montenegro with a disappointing 0 – 0 – 3 World Cup run.
For the 2006 qualifiers, Serbia and Montenegro was drawn in a group with Spain, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Lithuania and San Marino.
Led once again by Ilija Petkovic as coach, Serbia and Montenegro played some impressive defensive football — the "Famous Four" defense, consisting of Nemanja Vidic, Mladen Krstajic, Goran Gavrancic, and Ivica Dragutinovic, with Dragoslav Jevric as goalkeeper, allowed only one goal in ten games, finishing first with a 6 – 4 – 0 record, ahead of Spain.
However, after the injury of Mirko Vucinic before the start of the tournament in Germany, coach Petkovic caused massive controversy when he picked his own son Dušan as replacement. Dušan eventually decided to withdraw himself from the World Cup squad due to immense media pressure.
All this events have greatly deteriorated the atmosphere in the team.
Drawn in the "group of death" with Argentina, Netherlands, and debutants Côte d'Ivoire, for the first time in its history, the Serbian and Montenegrin national team lost all three group stage games and finished in dead last — 32nd place.
After yet another defeat to Netherlands in the opening game (1–0), coach Petkovic fell victim of the media criticism of his too defensive-orientated play and used more offensive tactics in the second match against Argentina. This proved to be a huge mistake, as Serbia and Montenegro recorded its biggest ever defeat in the World cup history — 6–0. In a meaningless game for both teams, Cote d'Ivoire defeated Serbia and Montenegro 3–2, despite Serbia and Montenegro taking a two-goal lead.
2010 FIFA WORLD CUP
Serbia finished first in its first ever qualifying campaign as an independent nation, winning their group ahead of favourites France.
They sealed their place in 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa with a 5 – 0 win against Romania on 11 October 2009.
World Cup record:
Previous appearances in finals: None as independent nation. Nine as part of former Yugoslavia, one as Serbia and Montenegro.
Semifinals in Chile 1962 as part of former Yugoslavia. As Serbia and Montenegro, they exited the 2006 tournament in Germany after three group stage defeats.
Coach: Radomir Antic
A former Partizan Belgrade defender, he also had spells with Fenerbahce, Real Zaragoza and Luton Town. Antic coached both Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, but the highlight of his career as manager was winning the Spanish league and cup double with Atletico Madrid in 1996.
He rejuvenated Serbia after their failure to qualify for Euro 2008. An iron-fisted coach who quickly won the players' respect and media praise for his no-nonsense approach.
Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United). Age: 28. Defender
Widely regarded as one of the world's best centrebacks. Won three successive league titles and the 2008 Uefa Champions League title with his club, while he was also the backbone of Serbia's defence in their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Milan Jovanovic (Standard Liege). Age: 28. Forward
The team's top scorer in the qualifiers with five goals, dropped after the Euro 2008 failure and recalled by Antic only because of injuries to some key players. With a bag full of tricks and quick feet, he has been in top form since. Nikola Zigic (Valencia). Age: 29. Forward
The towering hitman, who is 2.02 metres tall, is always a menace in the air but also has good close control for a man of his size. Had two excellent spells with Racing Santander but has struggled to win a first-team place at Spanish first division rivals Valencia.
Fifa world ranking Nov 2009: 20th
How they qualified: Serbia won Europe's Group Seven ahead of 2006 finalists France, having sealed their berth in next year's finals with a match to spare after a 5-0 home rout of Romania. They had a draw and a defeat in their two games against the French but collected maximum 12 points from matches with Romania and Austria, where France dropped seven points.
Serbia have switched from an industrious approach to being an entertaining side under Antic, but they struggle against top-level opposition. With plenty of talented midfielders but lacking squad depth at the back and up front, the Serbians will need a kind draw to stand a realistic chance of progressing into the last 16.