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24 Jun 16

A Yugoslav ‘Dream Team’ Would Win the EURO 2016

Sasa Dragojlo

It’s a fantasy for sure, but a team composed of the best players from all over former Yugoslavia would surely walk off with the trophy.

Photo: Youtube.com

“We couldn’t reach Yugoslavia in the qualifications, but then they were expelled and we found ourselves at the EURO. We played in the name of Yugoslavia and of all its citizens; we even rode a bus with the Yugoslav coat of arms. Practically, we were Yugoslavia, and it is impossible to explain it.”

So said Peter Schmeichel, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, recalling one of wackiest and most absurd moments in football history ever.

This was when the underdog Danish national team won the European football championship in 1992 - after not even qualifying for the tournament!

Six months before the 1992 EURO started in Sweden, in November 1991, the good old Danes finished second in the qualification group, behind the Yugoslav football team, which many experts claimed was one of the most talented football generations ever.

However, in May 1992, after all hell broke loose in Yugoslavia, the UN Security Council banned participation by the Yugoslav team in all sporting competitions.

As if in a lottery, the lucky Danish players - who had expected to observe the tournament from their sofas - got first-class tickets to the homeland of Ingmar Bergman and Abba.

Schmeichel recalled how they first learned about this.

“We were having lunch when the first rumour came through that maybe Yugoslavia was expelled and we had to take their place, and when we came back from the second training session, that was it – it was confirmed and we were now officially one of the participants in the tournament.”

The rest is history. The Danes, led by Schmeichel, midfielder Brian Laudrup and tournament top-scorer Henrik Larson, went on to beat The Netherlands in the semi-final on penalties. Four days later, they crushed the Germans in the final, 2:0.

Many fans have never got over it. To this day many football fans of now shattered former Yugoslavia remember with grief the day when the UN - to them, unfairly - prevented the Yugoslav team from going on to conquer in Sweden.

Many naturally ask what would have happened at the EURO if the war hadn’t erupted.

What if football stars like Jarni, Stimac, Prosinecki, Boban, Suker and Mijatovic had blended with Mihajlovic, Jugovic and Boksic, as well as players who were already established - Dragan Stojkovic, Dejan Savicevic, Darko Pancev and Srecko Katanec? Would they have won?

But, let’s leave those old football wounds to fester and imagine a fresher slice of alternative history – a Yugoslav national football team at the ongoing EURO 2016 in France.

If we look at the individual country teams, we can be sure that a reconstituted Yugoslavia would be in the top three.

Last week, we saw how the only former Yugoslav country in the tournament, Croatia, victoriously strolled down the group stage, beating Spain, one of the favourites, in the last game.

Imagine that Croatian team reinforced by the other world-class football aces from all over former Yugoslavia who play for top European football clubs.

It would be a hell of a coaching job just picking the starting 11 or even the formation.

Since I am a big fan of the Barcelona attacking game style, with strengthened midfield and numerous short passes, I would pick a 4-3-3 formation in which all the top quality of “European Brazilians”, as some called the old Yugoslav team, come in the first plan.

The spot between the goal posts would be reserved for Slovenia’s Jan Oblak who did tremendous work for Atletiko Madrid on their way to the League Champion finals this year.

Long-time Sahtjor captain Darijo Srna would be indispensable as an offensive right back, while on the opposite side of the field would be Aleksandar Kolarov, Manchester City’s universal soldier for the left side of the pitch.

The defensive central back duo would be composed of Chelsea’s long-time ironman, Branislav Ivanovic, and that ferocious Montenegrin from Athletico Madrid, Stefan Savic.

Photo: Flickr/Marc Puig I Perez.

Without doubt, midfield would be the best part of the team with Chelsea’s Nemanja Matic, Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic - or the king of free kicks, Miralem Pjanic, the new playmaker of Juventus.

The long-legged but technically well-equipped Matic would be guardian of the back four but also a safe solution when it comes to saving the ball and starting attack actions.

Modric would definitely be a creative mastermind with his “passes who have eyes”, accompanied by Rakitic, or Pjanic, who could have more space to get closer to the opposing goal, shooting or assisting the attackers.

On the left wing of the attack trio, I would definitely put the efficient and lethal Ivan Perisic and on the other side of the pitch his lucid Inter-Milan teammate, Stevan Jovetic.

Since “Bosnian diamond” Edin Dzeko, since making the transfer from Manchester City to Roma can barely score with an empty goal, the combative Juventus striker, Mario Mandzukic, would be my first choice for the tip of attack.

I’m not sure any team at the EURO in France could consider itself a favourite, up against this team.

The home team, with Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezman and Dimitri Payet, is respectable for sure. Spain also has great players, but if Croatia can beat them, Yugoslavia could do it better.

The other teams do not appear in great shape. England is unbalanced, Belgian is a set of individuals, Portugal only has “an individual”, Cristiano Ronaldo, and it would be really too much if the crippled Italian team of averages won the trophy.

Logically, a Yugoslav team composed of such world-class stars would likely conquer the EURO.

But then, of course, we should never forget the Garry Linaker’s little wisecrack: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”

Talk about it!

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