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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 May, 2003, 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK
Serbia & Montenegro's new dawn
By Nada Grkinic

Dejan Savicevic, coach of Serbia & Montenegro
Savicevic is charged with shaping the national team's fortunes
Long memories often count against those who have them.

They hinder progress. They colour reality.

Serbia & Montenegro, what is now left of the former Yugoslavia, have been guilty of holding onto the past, of not letting go.

And that has not always helped their cause.

There are still fans who dream of what might have been had Yugoslavia not fallen apart in the early 1990s and had the team that won the World Youth Championship in 1987 stayed together to compete in Euro 1992.

Yugoslav football was then at its strongest.

Red Star Belgrade had won the European Cup in 1991 and, despite the poverty of that particular performance - they played for penalties against Marseille from kick-off - the club was rich in talent.

The same was true of the national team.

Boban, Suker, Jarni, Bilic, Stojkovic, Jugovic, Prosinecki, Boksic, Mihajlovic, Mijatovic and Savicevic - Yugoslavia had never had it so good.

Events and politicians conspired against this group of world-class players and they would not challenge for the European Championship title.

Yugoslavia were excluded from the event in Sweden and in stepped Denmark, who went on to win the tournament.

Dragan Stojkovic, president of the Serbia & Montenegro Football Association
Stojkovic was part of Yugoslavia's golden generation

Sanctions meant that Yugoslavia were banned from international competition until 1998, when they qualified for the World Cup only to be eliminated by Holland in the second round.

That Yugoslav side still boasted an array of stars from that golden era, yet the overwhelming feeling was that their time had passed.

An ageing generation, missing the injured Savicevic, made it to the quarter-finals of Euro 2000, where they were humiliated 6-1 by the Dutch. The appetite, the hunger, the legs had gone.

It has been a slow process, and failing to qualify for last year's World Cup put the national team's plight firmly into perspective, but there are signs that Serbia & Montenegro are looking to the future.

Following the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, the national football associations were weakened. There now appears to be a reversal of that trend.

Former great Dragan Stojkovic is president of the country's FA and Savicevic is in charge of the national team.

Savicevic's charges made an impressive start to their Euro 2004 qualifying campaign with an away draw in Italy, a game they could have actually won, and a home victory over Finland before being held by lowly Azerbaijan.

Serbia & Montenegro face Finland in their next qualifier before taking on group leaders Wales, who have made massive strides themselves under the excellent stewardship of Mark Hughes, and Savicevic acknowledges the size of the task in hand.

"We can afford no more slip-ups," he said. "We are under pressure now but I'm sure the players will respond and do their best to come out on top."

Savicevic is likely to give the country's emerging stars the chance to shine in the friendly against England on Tuesday evening.

But it will be a collective effort and not one based on the individual as was often the case in the past.

And, whatever the outcome, Savicevic should take heart from what could prove to be the dawn of a new and exciting era.





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