The former Yugoslavia is said to be one of the best national teams that have ever existed around the late 1980s and early 1990s in Eastern European football. Yet, the only witness to that is the triumph of Red Star Belgrade 1991 in the European Cup Final. This will be an attempt to look at the available talent playing for the countries that have made up the former Yugoslavia and to postulate their position in world football today. This, however will be a difficult task.
Where to start this research? This article looks at six independent nations (Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro) which by now have their own footballing culture one would think. Most players listed here were selected on reasons of their caps for their country. Age and club games were only secondary parameters used.
The team of Yugoslavia never won any major prize in international football but managed an Olympic Gold medal in 1960 in Rome, previously they have won three silver medals between 1948 and 1956 at the Olympics. Arguably the 1960s were their heydays, when they reached the fourth spot at the 1962 World Cup in Chile and were twice runners up in the European Championship in 1960 and 1968, beating England on their way to the final. In club football no team except Red Star Belgrade in 1991 managed to win a title. It has been the only one so far.
From Croatia there could be as many as twelve players from the current squad as well as other players who had recent call-ups: In goal there would be Stipe Pletikosa while in defence there would be Vendran Corluka. In midfield the possible coach would be spoiled for choices as there is a rich pool of talent to chose from: Darijo Srna, Niko Kranjcar, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Ivan Perisic. The attack would be lead by former Arsenal player Eduardo accompanied by Ivan Klasnic and Mario Mandzukic. On stand-by there could be Mladen Petric and Ivica Olic in attack as well as Danijel Pranjic as a defender. This already looks a very good base but there are still some more ingredients to follow.
Bosnia and Herzegovina come up with Edin Dzeko. Not just is he a top class forward but he also can work defensively as he has shown against France in October. Alongside him there could be Misimovic in midfield and the captain of the team, Emir Spahic would strengthen the defence as would Sasa Papac. The team nearly qualified directly for EURO 2012 and will play Portugal in November in a two-legged play-off. They deserve a place in the finals next year as it is doubtful that the team will have the experience and quality for the next World Cup.
The third country to delegate players to the fantasy Yugoslavian team would be Slovenia who have taken part in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they finished third in their group behind the USA and England. Samir Handanovic would be called-up in goal as would Bostjan Cesar and Bojan Jokic in defence. The midfield re-enforced by Valter Birsa and Robert Koren while up front Milivoje Novakovic would be partnered with Edin Dzeko of Bosnia.
The three Serbian defenders Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovic and Alexander Kolarov as well as Neven Subotic would certainly be the main contenders for a spot in the starting eleven. Dejan Stankovic in midfield can not be left out in this squad with his experience. Interestingly, Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia will face each other in the qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Which leads over to Macedonia, currently 94th in the FIFA rankings. It is telling that their most capped player Igor Mitreski is playing for Neftchi Baku in Azerbaijan. However, Goran Pandev, currently at Napoli should be included.
Lastly Montenegro, the youngest of all countries as it recently left the union with Serbia after the 2006 World Cup. It is difficult for such a small nation to produce talent as rich as Croatia or Bosnia Herzegovina. As a result there will only be two forward included to this team in Stevan Jovetic and Mirko Vucinic the team’s captain.
To recap, here is the team according to playing positions:
Goal: Stipe Pletikosa (Croatia), Samir Handanovic (Bosnia Herzegovina)
Defence: Vendran Corluka, Danijel Pranjic (Croatia), Emir Spahic, Sasa Papac (Bosnia Herzegovina), Nemanja Vidic, Branislav Ivanovic, Alexander Kolarov, Neven Subotic (all Serbia), Bostjan Cesar, Bojan Jokic (Slovenia)
Midfield: Darijo Srna, Niko Kranjcar, Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic (all Croatia), Valter Birsa, Robert Koren (Slovenia), Dejan Stankovic (Serbia), Goran Pandev, Igor Mitreski (Macedonia),
Forward: Mladen Petric, Ivica Olic, Eduardo, Ivan Klasnic, Mario Mandzukic (all Croatia), Edin Dzeko, Milivoje Novakovic (Bosnia Herzegovina), Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic (Montenegro).
This is a group of 31 players out of which any fantasy coach would have to form a squad of 22 or 23 players for a tournament. The post of manager could be given to Slaven Bilic based on his experience as national coach of Croatia, despite their ups and downs. Alongside him Robert Prosinecki would do brilliantly as an assistant coach/manager, who is currently managing Red Star Belgrade, the club where he achieved his greatest success as a player in 1991. It is certainly no surprise that Croatia forms the backbone of the team followed by Serbia and Bosnia. This fantasy team of Yugoslavia would surely be among the favourites for the European Championship title next year (provided they qualify, of course) and could also be among the best four teams in the World Cup.