The glory days of Yugoslavia soccer may be long gone, but the countries that emerged from its dissolution still have a lot of soccer talent to offer. Croatia took podium finishes at the last two World Cups. For a country of almost 4 million people, that is unheard of. Serbia is currently underperforming for their standards, but some of the emerging players for them are showing promise.
Bosnia and Herzegovina turned heads by qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with several players who emigrated during the war. Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Kosovo, even as smaller countries are sometimes capable of reaching the Euro or the World Cup, or at least creating a surprise for the world.
For this exercise, this fictional XI looks at players that currently play for one of these countries. Soccer fans from these ex-Yugoslavian countries often get carried away in their fantasies. They may start naming players with origins from the region, such as Kulusevski, Ibrahimovic, and Xhaka. However, each of those players, despite their heritage, was born in a country outside Yugoslavia.
If Yugoslavia were to form a soccer team today, this is what the starting lineup would look like. This uses a 3-5-2 formation. The team is strongest in the central midfield and the strikers. The current generation is weaker on flanks, both in defense and offense.
Goalkeeper in a modern Yugoslavia soccer team
Jan Oblak (Slovenia)
Oblak is the best goalkeeper from Yugoslavia at the moment. The captain of that team and a world-class goalkeeper. He is still just 30 years old, played almost a decade at Atletico Madrid, and has a decade in front of him. He has won multiple trophies at club level, but it is very unlikely that he will achieve the same with the national team.
The honorable mention is for Domenik Livakovic from Croatia, who will likely make a move this summer from Zagreb. He became famous at the 2022 World Cup with his phenomenal performances.
Stefan Savic (Montenegro)
His career has been very interesting, with Man City identifying his talent and bringing him in at age 20. He just suffered a tragedy before the transfer happened, and his physique was not ready for the Premier League. To get more experience he made a quick transfer to Fiorentina in his early 20s. Similarly to Oblak, he has been at the core of Simeone’s warriors in Atletico Madrid. At age 32 he is already one of the best players in the history of Montenegro, but his club career achievements will be far more impressive.
Josko Gvardiol (Croatia)
Gvardiol is the most in-demand defender this summer after his amazing performances at the World Cup. He plays for RB Leipzig but would walk in any starting lineup in the world. At 21 he has a bright decade in front of him both at club level and in the national team. Valuations of 100 million are being speculated and it won’t be a surprise if Gvardiol makes a transfer in a mega club.
Duje Caleta-Car (Croatia)
Caleta-Car is probably the least prominent of the three defenders. He had a mediocre first season at Southampton with limited starts, after playing at Marseille in his early career. It is yet to see if he will look to switch to another club or stay in the Championship division. He is 26, so there is still time to show his best Nikola Milenkovic (Serbia) from Fiorentina is the other option, but again lagging behind Savic and Gvardiol.
Luka Modric (Croatia)
What more can be said about Luka Modric that hasn’t been said already? At 37, he is still playing 120 minutes for his national team, scoring in extra time this month. He won the Golden Ball in the 2018 World Cup and the Bronze Ball 4 years later. Modric would be the star player of this Yugoslavia soccer team. He has won everything that can be won at a club level with Real Madrid, becoming a historic player in the club as he is in Croatia. Maestro!
Marcelo Brozovic (Croatia)
Brozovic has been part of Inter Milan since 2015, leading the team as a captain in the Champions League Final. He is tenacious and strong, a true leader for the team. Brozovic has more defensive roles in the center of the midfield, so he is less flashy than his teammates. However, at age 30 he has accomplished great things to be considered a legend of Inter and Croatia.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Serbia)
SMS has been the favorite player for summer transfer speculation. He is playing at Lazio, which is a club that is below his standards. Speculators are linking him with title contenders in the best leagues around Europe and this year might be the one. He is not only technically savvy, but he is physically dominant, which can work well in virtually any league in Europe.
Honorable mention: Mateo Kovacic would make the team most years. However, with the great achievement of Inter Milan to reach the final and the mess that is Chelsea this year, Kovacic misses the cut. To be fair, Kovacic has always been a peripheral figure in Real Madrid and has been taking his time to adjust in Chelsea.
Elif Elmas (Macedonia)
Napoli has won the league and Elmas has been used as a versatile utility player, as a winger, attacking mid, or a second striker. He is still young at 23 and has room to grow. With the change of coaches at the club it is important to make sure he gets enough playing time to develop. Napoli will play in the Champions League again and Elmas will have the opportunity to impress again for the club, as well as become a leader of the national team. Macedonia qualified for their first-ever Euro Cup in 2021 with Elmas already playing an important role at the tournament.
Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
At the sunset of his career, Perisic might have missed a great chance to play in the Champion League Final in 2023. Perisic decided to move to Tottenham Hotspur the summer before on a free transfer. Nevertheless, he truly had an amazing career winning the treble with Bayern and Serie A with Inter Milan, as well as being part of Croatia’s golden generation. He is the most versatile player and a role model for new Croatian players in the years to come.
Dusan Vlahovic (Serbia)
Vlahovic is the most expensive player on this list (pending Gvardiol’s transfer), with Juventus paying 70+ million euros for the transfer. With 140 appearances and 61 goals, Vlahovic is only 23 and already considered one of the top 5 young strikers in the world. He is tall and strong, bringing back the nomadic striker as an outlet for the teams. The playing style in Italy suits him, but it won’t be a surprise if he soon makes a transfer to another league with teams in Spain and England being interested in his services. He would be the star #9 in a Yugoslavia soccer team.
Edin Dzeko (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Most soccer fans thought his career was over. However, Dzeko played in the starting eleven in the Champions League Final 2023 at age 37. He scored on the final day of the season to help Man City win its first Premier League. Also, he is the first player ever to have scored 50+ goals in three of the five major leagues in Europe. Finally, Dzeko is the first Bosnian player to have scored 50 goals for Bosnia, had 100 caps, and took the national team to the first-ever World Cup in 2014. Dzeko’s career is truly impressive and he is the best player from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The future of the Yugoslavia countries
The future looks bright for the countries that emerged from Yugoslavia. With a new generation of talent coming through, expect to see more success on the international stage. Croatia, in particular, has many young players who are already making waves, such as Josko Gvardiol and Nikola Vlasic. Serbia has always had a strong youth system, and players like Dusan Vlahovic and Luka Jovic are now starting to shine. As for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Macedonia, Slovenia, and Kosovo, they will continue to develop their soccer infrastructure and produce talented players who will make their mark in the years to come.
While we may never see a Yugoslavia soccer team grace the international stage again, we can still dream of what might have been. However, with the talent on offer in the countries that emerged from Yugoslavia, we can expect to see some exciting soccer in the years to come. In the name of peace, in a region troubled with conflicts in the last few decades, it would be great to see a new tradition of friendly all-star games. Until then, we can enjoy watching the likes of Modric, Oblak, and Vlahovic dazzle on the field in their own countries.
PHOTO: IMAGO / NurPhoto
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