Yugoslavia is one of the thirteen countries who accepted the invitation of Uruguay to compete in the inaugural World Cup in 1930. No qualification was required for the event, indeed Ireland were also invited to the tournament but declined, thus ensuring a wait of sixty years before they would make their debut in the finals. Yugoslavia played a mere three games but still made the semi finals. Victories over Brazil (2-1) and Bolivia (4-0) ensured they topped the group. However, advancing beyond the last four was a bridge too far as they were heavily defeated 6-1 by hosts and eventual winners Uruguay.
Yugoslavia failed to qualify for the next two World Cups but were back in 1950 when the tournament took place in Brazil. They were handed a tough draw in the first round where they were matched with the hosts, along with Switzerland and Mexico. The side performed admirably beating Switzerland (3-0) and Mexico (4-1). A draw against Brazil in their final match would have put them through to the final pool. Unfortunately, a 2-0 defeat meant an early exit from the tournament and another long journey home to Europe empty-handed.
Four years later in Switzerland, Yugoslavia qualified for their first European-based World Cup and they were drawn in a tough group with Brazil, France and Mexico. As one of the unseeded teams in the tournament they would have to face Brazil and France and would not be required to face Mexico. However, the team performed heroically defeating France 1-0 and drawing 1-1 after extra time with Brazil. Luck deserted them in the final pool placings as the toss of a coin granted Brazil top spot in the group. Yugoslavia went on to face West Germany in the last eight and were defeated 2-0.
The Yugoslav team qualified for its third consecutive World Cup which was held in Sweden in 1958. In the first round they would face France, as they had four years previously, along with Scotland and Paraguay. An opening 1-1 draw with Scotland was followed by an exceptional 3-2 victory over France and the side completed their group fixtures with a high scoring 3-3 draw with Paraguay. Despite finishing level on points with France, goal average determined the team were placed second in the group and once again they would face West Germany in the quarter final. History was to repeat itself and Yugoslavia exited the tournament to the World Champions by the narrowest of margins – losing out 1-0.
In 1960 the first European Championship finals were held in France. Unlike today, where sixteen nations compete, the first finals consisted of a mere four teams. Despite this, the tournament produced one of the most incredible games in history when Yugoslavia, who were trailing 4-2 to France with fifteen minutes to go in their semi-final, made a remarkable comeback to win 5-4. This put the team in their first international final where they would face the Soviet Union. The final was held in the Parc des Princes, Paris where a small crowd of 17,966 saw Yugoslavia take the lead in the 43rd minute through Gallic. Four minutes into the second half, Metreveli equalised and the sides were level after ninety minutes. With just seven minutes to go Ponedelnik gave the Soviets the winner and the Yugoslav team returned home as runners-up.
Both countries were drawn in the same group in the first round of the 1962 World Cup in Chile. They were joined by South America teams, Uruguay and Colombia. Colombia were appearing in their first finals. Yugoslavia endured a difficult start to the group, going down 2-0 to the Soviets but an excellent 3-1 win over previous winners Uruguay, followed by an exceptional 5-0 victory over Colombia paved the way for qualification to the quarter final.
Incredibly West Germany, for the third consecutive finals, were the opposition in the last eight. There were jubilant scenes when Yugoslavia finally overcame their German counterparts with a late goal from Radakovic giving them a 1-0 win. For the first time in thirty two years the country was in a World Cup semi-final and they were strong favourites to beat Czechoslovakia. Yet it was not to be and in front of a crowd of less than 6000, they were defeated 3-1. Yugoslavia’s finals concluded with a 1-0 defeat to hosts Chile in the third-place play off.
The Yugoslavs failed to qualify for Euro ‘64 and World Cup ‘66 but were back on the international scene for the 1968 European Championships held in Italy. As they had in France eight years previously, the team made the final, defeating England 1-0 with a goal from Dzagic just three minutes from time.
The same man put the Yugoslavs in front in the final in Rome after thirty two minutes and they led with ten minutes to go. Yet the hosts managed an equaliser through Domenghini and ran out 2-0 winners in the replay two days later. It was another commendable performance in the European Championships by the team, yet more disappointment in finishing runners-up.
World Cup ‘70 and Euro ‘72 proved too difficult to qualify for but the country made the 1974 World Cup finals held in West Germany. A group consisting of holders Brazil, along with Scotland and Zaire seemed formidable, yet the team won the group. A scoreless draw with the World Champions was followed by a record finals win (9-0) against Zaire. In the final game the team drew 1-1 with Scotland, who ended up failing to progress from their group on goal difference. The team looked strong contenders to win the World Cup, yet a disastrous performance in the next stage meant they failed to reach the final. Yugoslavia lost all three games in the group, going down to West Germany (0-2), Poland (1-2) and Sweden (1-2).
The country was given the honour of hosting the 1976 European Championship finals and hopes were high that they could better the performances of 1960 and 1968. However the obstacle of West Germany once again proved too tough to get past and the team were defeated 4-2 after extra time. Third place was denied them by Holland who beat them 3-2 in the play off. Despite not winning the tournament, history was made as this was the first time the European Championship finals had taken place in Eastern Europe.
In the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Yugoslavia was drawn in a favourable group with the hosts, Northern Ireland and Honduras. However, the finals did not go to plan as the team failed to progress, drawing with Northern Ireland (0-0), losing to Spain (2-1), while a last minute penalty from Petrovic to defeat Honduras (1-0) only ensured that they did not finish bottom of the group.
The European Championship finals in France two years later was also a bitter disappointment for the country. They were once again drawn in a group with the host nation, along with Belgium and Denmark. Three defeats ensued, (0-2) v Belgium, (0-5) v Denmark and (2-3) v France. The defeat against Denmark was particularly galling as it was a record defeat for a team in the finals. A mere ten years earlier, the country had been celebrating a record World Cup finals win.
The senior team had underperformed at recent tournaments, yet the U-20 side had won the 1987 World Cup in Chile. Success followed in the 1990 World Cup in Italy where they progressed from the group stage with victories over Colombia (1-0) and the United Arab Emirates (4-1). A heavy defeat was suffered against West Germany (1-4). An excellent 2-1 win over Spain brought the team to the quarter final stage where they were pitted against World Cup champions Argentina. A nil-all draw after 120 minutes meant penalties were required and despite goalkeeper Ivkovic saving a penalty from Diego Maradona, they were defeated 3-2 and eliminated.
Yugoslavia was tipped as potential winners of the 1992 European Championship finals in Sweden. The team had won all eight qualifiers as they finished ahead of Denmark in their group. However football was rendered meaningless in the country as a civil war broke out. UEFA banned Yugoslavia from the tournament, which was won by Denmark who took their place. The country broke up and Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia gained their independence. None of the countries competed in the 1994 World Cup but all were allowed enter the 1996 European Championship qualifiers.
Yugoslavia were not allowed to compete until the 1998 World Cup qualifiers where they defeated Hungary in a play-off to reach the finals in France. The team progressed from the first round defeating Iran (1-0) and the United States (1-0) and drawing with Germany (2-2). A fantastic game with Holland ensued and Yugoslavia were extremely unlucky to lose 2-1 as Mijatovic missed a penalty, while the Dutch winner was scored by Davids in injury time.
The country qualified for the European Championship finals in Holland and Belgium in 2000 and a bizarre group game occurred where they faced Slovenia. Trailing 3-0 they lost centre half Mihajlovic to a red card, then incredibly came back to draw 3-3 with ten men.
A 1-0 win over Norway was followed by another fascinating game against Spain. Leading 3-2 in injury time Spain were on the verge of elimination yet scored two goals to beat Yugoslavia 4-3. This meant Yugoslavia finished second in the group and would face hosts Holland in the quarter final. Home advantage proved decisive for the Dutch and Yugoslavia suffered an emphatic 6-1 defeat.
In 2003 Yugoslavia became Serbia and Montenegro and began competing under their new name with a disappointing 2-1 defeat to Azerbaijan in a European Championship qualifier. In 2006 Serbia and Montenegro qualified for the World Cup finals in Germany, yet failed to reach the second round, losing all three games to Holland (0-1), Argentina (0-6) and the Ivory Coast (2-3).
After the World Cup in 2006, Serbia and Montenegro split into two independent nations. In 2010 Serbia qualified for the World Cup finals in South Africa. Despite a fantastic 1-0 victory over Germany, defeats suffered at the hands of Ghana (0-1) and Australia (1-2) meant the team finished bottom of the group and failed to progress to the second round.
Serbia failed to qualify for the 2012 European Championship finals, finishing third in their qualifying group behind winners Italy and play-off qualifiers Estonia. They have been drawn with Croatia, Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia and Wales in a qualifying group for the 2014 World Cup to be held in Brazil.