What would the former Republic of of Yugoslavia national team look like if it was still around today? It’s fascinating to see how good a team made up of players from Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia could have been. On paper at least, this starting XI looks like a side who could challenge anyone in the world, much like a potential Catalan side.
(No Macedonia players made the list. To use a popular phrase: “them’s the breaks”).
SFR Yugoslavia starting XI (formation: 4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Samir Handanović (Slovenia, Inter)
The two-time Serie A goalkeeper of the year may have recently retired from international duty after his country’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016, but he’s still regarded as one of the finest shot-stoppers in Europe. The former Udinese man is known for his penalty-saving prowess having kept out the second-most spot kicks in Serie A history (22) and at 31 years old—not that old for a goalkeeper—he has plenty of years left in him.
Right-back: Darijo Srna (Croatia, Shakhtar Donetsk)
The “Icon of Shakhtar” captains both club and country, so the next logical step would be to give him the armband for “Yugoslavia”. As Croatia’s most capped player, he certainly brings a wealth of experience to the table and with 21 international goals, he’s also third on their list of all-time top goalscorers. His iconic status at Shakhtar comes from his loyalty to the club since joining them in 2003 from Hadjuk Split.
Centre-back: Stefan Savić (Montenegro, Atlético Madrid)
The 25-year-old certainly has plenty of years ahead of him and despite struggling during his one season at Manchester City in 2011-12, he still has a Premier League winners medal even though he only made 12 appearances. He then showed his ability at Serie A side Fiorentina by helping them to the 2014/15 Europa League semi-finals before signing a five-year deal with Atlético last summer.
Centre-back: Branislav Ivanović (Serbia, Chelsea)
Even though he’s naturally a right-back, Ivanović’s experience in a number of positions means he could do a decent job in the heart of this defence. He might have struggled early on this season for the reigning Premier League champions but under Guus Hiddink, he seems to be back to his usual self. Hardly surprising for a man who has won just about everything with Chelsea and even scored the winning goal in the 2013 Europa League final.
Left-back: Aleksander Kolarov (Serbia, Manchester City)
The 30-year-old certainly adds to what is already an experienced back five for Yugoslavia. This experience extends to winning leagues and cups with Man City since his £16 million move from Lazio in 2010 and his ability from free-kicks and long-range shots would be a bonus addition to this team.
Central midfield Miralem Pjanić (Bosnia & Herzegovina, Roma)
Deadly from both set pieces and in open play, the 25-year-old is the 55th, he was last season’s top assist-maker in Serie A and is currently being courted by Chelsea.
Central midfield: Luka Modrić (Croatia, Real Madrid)
Undoubtedly the talisman of this fantasy XI, Modrić is one of Real Madrid’s most important players after initially lighting up White Hart Lane for Tottenham and his play-making abilities have earned him praise from some of the most highly-regarded names in the game such as Sir Alex Ferguson and José Mourinho.
Central midfield: Ivan Rakitić (Croatia, Barcelona)
Having represented his country of birth, Switzerland, at Under-21 level, Rakitić then switched allegiances to his parents’ homeland and has represented the Croats at senior level since 2007, which is good news for this team. After playing for FC Basel, Schalke 04 and Sevilla (where he won the Europa League), he signed for Barcelona in summer 2014 and has since become an integral part of their all-conquering side.
Right-wing: Zoran Tosić (Serbia, CSKA Moscow)
Manchester United fans will remember him for a disastrous one-and-a-half season spell at the club between 2009 and 2010 where he made just five appearances, but he has since rebuilt his career in Moscow with a couple of Russian Premier League titles to his name. The 28-year-old is also a mainstay in the Serbia team with 70 caps and 11 goals in his international career to date.
Striker: Mario Mandzukić (Croatia, Juventus)
Mandzukić beat his fellow Serie A target man Edin Džeko for the lone striker spot. He has had a very successful career in four different countries and, though he is yet to hit top form at Juventus, has always maintained a good scoring record at every club he’s played for.
Left-wing: Ivan Perisić (Croatia, Inter)
The former Borussia Dortmund and Wolfsburg winger rounds off this potentially word-class side but he can certainly hold his own among the more illustrious names in the team. Peirsić sacrificed Champions League football with Wolfsburg to sign for the Italian giants last summer in a deal worth £14.5 million and has already drawn priase for his work ethic and unselfishness.