Serbia-Montenegro a World Cup team without a country

Updated: June 15, 2006, 4:20 PM ET
Associated Press

BILLERBECK, Germany -- Serbia-Montenegro exists only in the World Cup.

The team qualified as the last remnant of the former Yugoslavia. Then, last month, the country formally split.

It is a team without a nation -- or, rather, with two nations.

Unlike the violent disintegration of the rest of the six-state Yugoslav federation, this divorce was amicable -- Montenegrins voted May 21 for independence.

Coach Ilija Petkovic has joked that he was the only one in the monthlong soccer tournament leading two national teams. Soon he may be leading none: the squad is in disarray as it enters a crucial Friday match against powerful Argentina.

"Anyway you look at it, we're finished," said Aleksandar Veg, who lives in Serbia's capital of Belgrade. "The national team showed that they cannot stick together, just like Serbia-Montenegro couldn't."

The two nations share close historic, cultural and religious ties. Tens of thousands of Montenegrins have worked and lived in Serbia since the two nations joined in a Balkan union in 1918.

But it was tough to keep up national spirits when even the national anthem is a source of tension. Serbian fans detest the old communist-era Yugoslav song "Hey Slavs!" and regularly booed it, leaving players shifting with unease.

In tiny Montenegro, which already received widespread international recognition as an independent state, there is little enthusiasm for Serbia-Montenegro's World Cup matches because there is only one Montenegrin playing in the squad -- goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric.

"I stopped being a Serbia-Montenegro fan a long time ago," said graphic designer Adil Tuzovic in Montenegro's capital of Podgorica. He will, he said, be an "ardent Montenegro fan" when the new nation forms its own national team.

The sleepy west German tourist resort of Billrebeck, where Serbia-Montenegro's players are training, is decorated with flags which are no longer valid. Signs say "The Hearty Welcome to Serbia and Montenegro."

"It is funny to see that this German village is the last symbol of old Yugoslavia," said Neven Boskovic, a Serbian fan visiting Billerbeck. "When we drop out of the championships, so will the last symbols of the old country."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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