Србија / Srbija / Serbia
- Capital: Belgrade / Београд / Beograd
- Official Languages: Serbian
- Recognised Minority Languages: Hungarian, Bosnian, Albanian, Croatian, Slovak, Romanian, Bulgarian, Rusyn
- Nicknames: Орлови / Оrlovi (The Eagles) [men’s]; Beli orlovi (The White Eagles) [women’s]
- Association: Фудбалски савез Србије (ФСС) / Fudbalski savez Srbije (FSS)
- FIFA Code: SRB
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (2010, 2018) as Serbia; Fourth Place (1930, 1962) as Yugoslavia
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best Euros Result (Men): Not Qualified as Serbia; Runners-Up as Yugoslavia (1960, 1976)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 6th (December 1998)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 30th (December 2007)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 101st (December 1994)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 46th (March 2011)
- Most Capped Player: Branislav Ivanović – 105 caps
- Top Scorer: Stjepan Bobek – 38 goals
The Republic of Serbia is situated in the middle of the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe and surrounded by eight other European countries. Its history in football is long and successful, albeit with many name changes along the way. They made their international debut in 1920 as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, losing 0-7 to Czechoslovakia in Antwerp, and would take part in the very first World Cup in 1930 as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In that inaugural tournament, the Yugoslavs (made up of just Serbian-based players after the Croatian FA refused to let any of its players to play for the national team because the FA’s headquarters were moved from Zagreb to Belgrade earlier in the year) reached the semi-finals of the tournament, but would eventually lose to hosts and favourites Uruguay. After the Second World War, with the team now known as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, they would become one of the stronger teams in European and world football, and regular qualifiers for both the World Cup and European Championships. The 1960s were a particularly golden period for the Yugoslavs, as they finished as runners-up in the 1960 and 1968 Euros, as well as finishing in fourth place again in the 1962 World Cup. They would also host the finals tournament for Euro 1976, albeit finishing in fourth position.
Towards the end of the 1980s and the start of the 1990s, Yugoslavia looked as if another golden generation was coming through, having reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup and qualifying with ease for Euro 1992. Alas the political situation was fracturing rapidly as democracy was embraced by the nation, resulting in a brutal break-up of the federal country which would see the Yugoslavs removed from Euro 1992 and suspended from competing until 1996 due to UN sanctions. They would return for World Cup 1998 qualifying, this time as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (consisting of just Serbia, Montenegro & Kosovo), and would surprise the football world by qualifying for the tournament. The Yugoslavs would progress to the knockout stage, unbeaten in their group before losing 1-2 to Netherlands after conceding an injury time winner. They would also subsequently qualify for Euro 2000, again reaching the knockout round and being eliminated by the Dutch, this time by a 1-6 scoreline in Rotterdam.
Another name change occured in 2003 with the team now known as Serbia & Montenegro, and the side qualified for another World Cup, this time the 2006 edition held in Germany. However curiously, Montenegro had voted for independence prior to the tournament meaning the side was representing a country which no longer existed during the World Cup. It would prove to be a horror show for the team as they lost all three of their group games. Therefore since 2006, the team has been known as Serbia and has qualified for two World Cups during that period, reaching the 2010 and 2018 tournaments but not progressing from the group stage either time, and winning only twice (1-0 wins versus Germany in 2010, and against Costa Rica in 2018) . In addition, the Serbian team has not qualified for the European Championships despite another talented generation of players coming to the forefront during that period. Curiously, considering its history and talent, the team has not competed since their quarter-final finish in Euro 2000.
Having finished behind Ukraine and Portugal in their qualifying group, they earned a right to compete in Path C of the UEFA Nations League route. Having impressively seeing off favourites Norway 2-1 away from home after extra time, they were naturally the favourites in the final against Scotland, especially as the final was being played at the famous Red Star Stadium/Marakana. Sadly a poor performance in Belgrade, despite a 90th minute equaliser from the home side, meant the tie progressed to penalties, with the Scots holding their nerve and winning the shootout 5-4. Serbia’s wait to qualify for the Euros under their own name would have to continue…
To talk about one of the most talented teams in European football, who, despite qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, sadly seem to be currently underperforming to the levels their their talents deserves to be at, we interviewed the brilliant Nebojša Marković. A Serbian-based football journalist, he has written articles for a number of excellent websites and publications, such as FourFourTwo, SRF Sport, and many others, as well as being involved in the voting to collate The Guardian‘s ‘Top 100 Footballers‘ lists in 2019 and 2020. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Twitter: @MarkovicNeb
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
That’s a tough question to start things off. For me, the best ever player in our history is Dragan Stojković Piksi, the legendary Red Star and Olympique Marseille playmaker who just became Serbia’s national team coach, although officially, many still believe Dragan Džajić is the best ever. The best ever manager from Serbia is tough to say as well, because I have not seen the likes of Vujadin Boškov, who was Real Madrid coach and who managed to bring Sampdoria to European Cup final in 1992. I reckon it is fair to say Boškov.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
Our national team does not have such a strong cult in recent years, unfortunately, but the likes of Dragan Stojković Piksi in the 1990s and Dejan Stanković in the 21st century could fit that bill. Some amazing players also played for the old Yugoslavia, but were not really Serbian players, such as Safet Sušić, one of the greatest players in the history of Paris Saint-Germain.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Serbia currently?
That depends. For me, that is Dušan Tadić, who has been brilliant in recent years, while Sergej Milinković-Savić is the one that is yet to reach full potential. And he does have a huge potential.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
Not good. We missed the chance to qualify for EURO 2020/21 after losing at home to Scotland and that sums up how bad things have been recently. We also never played at the Euros since 2000, so three World Cup appearances this century are simply not good enough.
Q. Are there any Serbian players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
Sergej Milinković-Savić is leading the pack [bossing the midfielder for Lazio], although he is already 26. Nikola Milenković is a really bright centre-back talent [23 year-old at Fiorentina], while Luka Jović is still trying to reach his full potential in attack [23 year-old on loan at Eintracht Frankfurt from Real Madrid].
Q. Looking at Serbia’s international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
That is a really tough question, especially since the best results of our national team (which includes the old Yugoslavia) came in years I simply cannot remember. One of the best in the past 25 years could be the first half against Germany at the 1998 World Cup in France, while in this century, that is definitely the 1-0 win against Germany in 2010 at the World Cup in South Africa.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
That could be Scotland from last November. That was a truly pathetic performance and a match Serbia just had to win.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Serbian national team?
The best things are those months leading up to the big tournament your national team has qualified for and the euphoria while watching those games. The worst things are that we don’t win in such matches all that often…
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
No, such fan culture in Serbia simply does not exist.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
My favourite shirt is the home kit we wore at the 1998 World Cup, while the country was still Yugoslavia and we played in dark blue, white shorts and red socks. A real thing of beauty. I also liked our combination for 2010 World Cup = a red shirt with a white cross across the front, blue shorts and white socks.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Serbian national team?
They are the usual ones – that we will qualify for every big tournament and try to get as far as we can. That hasn’t worked for us in the past 20 years all that much!
A massive много вам хвала to Nebojša for answering our questions on the Оrlovi. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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