Team profile – Serbia and montenegro (group c)

It is fair to describe Serbia and Montenegro as one of Europe’s surprise packages. They beat off stiff competition in Group 7 from Spain, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Belgium, to claim one of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany places reserved for group winners.

Serbia and Montenegro was one of eight European teams to remain undefeated throughout the qualifying campaign, winning six of their 10 fixtures and drawing the other four.

After twice holding closest rivals Spain and drawing away in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ilija Petkovic’s cohorts sealed direct qualification with a decisive home victory over their Bosnian neighbours in their last match. Mateja Kezman was the hero on the night, sparking a collective outpouring of joy with his fifth strike during qualification.

They appeared on the international stage under the banner of Yugoslavia until 2003. The team made the semi-finals at the very first FIFA World Cup in 1930, taking the lead against eventual champions Uruguay but finishing on the wrong end of a 6-1 defeat. They appeared at six further finals, most recently with a highly fancied side at France 1998 where they lost 2-1 to the Netherlands in the last 16.

A turning point arrived in June 2003 when Serbia and Montenegro lost to Azerbaijan in the preliminary stage of UEFA EURO 2004. The defeat hastened Petkovic’s arrival in place of Dejan Savicevic, and the national team known as Plavi, or the Blues, by their passionate fans subsequently marched from one success to the next. They will enter the finals in Germany having not lost a competitive fixture under their coach.

Their stars include Atletico Madrid’s Kezman, Dejan Stankovic of Inter Milan, and experienced Osasuna hitman Savo Milosevic. However, the real jewel in the crown is Europe’s best defensive line: they put up the continent’s meanest performance in their ten qualifying fixtures with just one goal condeded, Spain’s effort in the 1-1 draw. Keeper Dragoslav Jevric and a back four marshalled by captain Mladen Krstajic of Schalke take much of the credit.