FIFA World Cup Group D focus: Serbian History

A brief look at the history of football in Serbia.

Serbian football history is of course intertwined with their political history and this World Cup is the first time they-ve ever attempted to qualify for a competition under their own name.

For previous competitions they were called Serbia & Montenegro and prior to that they were Yugoslavia. However, before the First World War, they did compete as Serbia.

With the war that split Yugoslavia apart, two main footballing nations emerged: Serbia and Croatia. With Croatia wanting to distance themselves from the former Yugoslavia, Serbia took the official FIFA history of Yugoslavia and all of their past matches.

Prior to the creation of the Yugoslav republic, football flourished in Serbia and records show that it came to the country as early as 1896 when a student returned from Germany and brought the game to Belgrade.

The first official football clubs were founded in 1901 and it-s argued amongst them as to who-s the oldest as some sides were over the Austria-Hungary border but were later within Serbia-s boundary.

The national team of Serbia played their first game in 1911 against a club side from Croatia and were soundly beaten but several years later, they turned out as Yugoslavia and despite losing convincingly in their first outings, a future force in the world game had taken their maiden steps.

The best Yugoslavia ever did in a World Cup was in 1930 (most of the better European sides didn-t travel) when they finished third. The squad was made up mostly of Serbian players as Croatian sides held the majority of their players back.

Under their Yugoslavia badge, they-ve participated in nine tournaments overall and also reached the semi finals again in 1962. Jerkovic was joint top scorer of that tournament and they-ve also managed to reach the quarter finals on four other occasions.

Serbia even hosted the 1976 European Championships (as well as other Yugoslav states of course) and they-ve had better fortunes in their continent-s competition. They reached the final twice (and according to the history books were unlucky to lose in both) and the semis once.

Aside from their positive international performances at World Cups and European tournaments alike, their domestic sides were a force to be reckoned with in the European club competitions.

Sides such as Red Star Belgrade, Partizan Belgrade and Croatia Zagreb were extremely strong sides and Red Star especially were very successful in European club tournaments competing 46 times in all.

Red Star-s latest victory was in 1991 when they won the European Cup (now called Champions League). Immediately after this the war broke out and Croatia and Slovenia started their own leagues, pulling the Yugoslav league apart.

With the splitting of the league, came a watering down of the quality of the clubs in all the former Yugoslav nations.

This is a real shame as former successful European football clubs are now struggling to get into the tournaments as their own league has lost a great deal of quality and depth that it once possessed.

This has had a knock-on effect on the countries that made up Yugoslavia, with the exception of Croatia who have faired well since the split. Serbia now seem to have reawaken though and they seem to be getting back to again being an important team on the world stage.

By beating former World and European Champions France in qualification, they have shown that they-re again ready to start performing against the best teams in the world.

Australia also has a deep football connection with the former Yugoslav states as many of the original sides in the National Soccer League had Balkan state connections.

Australia has only played Yugoslavia once (never under the name of Serbia) when we won 1-0 in the 1988 Olympics. They will therefore be a fairly unknown quantity for Pim-s men and the coaching staff will have to do their homework.

Any team who tops France in a qualification group has to be taken seriously and despite a lull in fortunes since the problems in the Balkans, it seems that the Serbian national team has turned a corner.

One thing-s for sure, when the Qantas Socceroos line up against the Serbians in the early hours of the 24th (AEST) it-s sure to be a vital match and the winners are likely to end up facing the USA or England in the second round.