The Balkans region of Europe is a hotbed for footballing talent.
You only have to look at Croatia’s run all the way to the 2018 World Cup final to get the point with top-class players such as Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Ivan Perisic all hailing from east of the Adriatic Sea.
Between 1918 and 1992, great swathes of this region, and therefore all the sporting talent within it, were governed by the nation of Yugoslavia.
Footballing brilliance in the Balkans
The country no longer exists and has now been dissolved into six different UN member states: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
The partially-recognised Republic of Kosovo, which boasts its own FIFA-ratified national football team, also falls within the land once considered to be part of Yugoslavia.
Even just listing off those territories and nations is enough to get football fans thinking about all the incredible players who have called them home both before and after the collapse of Yugoslavia.
From the iconic European Cup success of Red Star Belgrade in 1991 to all the Balkan players competing across the continent’s top five leagues, there can be no denying the quality and talent within the former Yugoslavian zone.
“Chelsea sign Raheem Sterling & Ake” (Football Terrace)
What would a combined XI look like?
As such, here at GIVEMESPORT, we couldn’t help wondering what a combined XI of the nations that were once considered to be the same country just a few decades ago would look like now.
With so much sporting brilliance coursing through that part of Europe, it would be fair to assume that coalescing their finest players would make for one of the strongest line-ups in international football.
And if you assumed that, then you assumed correctly, because an ultimate XI of players who compete for the Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Slovenian, Bosnian, North Macedonian and Kosovar national teams is simply world-class.
A modern-day Yugoslavia XI
All our picks are completely subjective and you could easily have included so many other top, top stars, so feel free to make your own tweaks if you so please, but be sure to check out our superb XI down below:
GK: Jan Oblak (Slovenia)
No messing, straight out the gates. Oblak might have endured a tough 2021/22 season with Atletico Madrid, but there’s no denying that he still ranks amongst the world’s best goalkeepers.
CB: Nikola Milenković (Serbia)
While, sure, the defence will certainly be the weakest part of our team, underrate Milenković at your peril because he’s not reported to be Inter Milan’s first-choice centre-back target this summer for no reason.
CB: Stefan Savic (Montenegro)
The memories of Savic struggling at Manchester City are long forgotten with the sole Montenegrin in our team having long established himself as a steely presence across seven seasons with Atletico.
CB: Joško Gvardiol (Croatia)
Again, just because Gvardiol might not be the biggest name on the teamsheet, don’t be so quick to scroll on because the RB Leipzig star has big things ahead of him with 10 senior caps at just 20 years old.
DM: Marcelo Brozovic (Croatia)
Over 70 caps for Croatia and almost 300 appearances for Inter Milan are a testament to Brozovic’s quality pretty much everywhere in the midfield, but it’s at ‘CDM’ that he’s going to hold the fort for our combined XI.
RM: Dusan Tadic (Serbia)
A dazzling creator with a silky left foot who racks up more assists for Ajax than we can possibly count, it’s a crying shame that Tadic was allowed to leave the Premier League with so little fanfare.
CM: Luka Modric (Croatia)
Who’s this bloke? Yeh, never heard of him either.
CM: Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
LM: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Snapped up by Tottenham Hotspur this summer, Perisic is an ambidextrous wizard who can play at full-back, wing-back, wide midfield and even as a full-blown winger. Famously scored in the 2018 World Cup final.
AM: Sergej Milinković-Savić (Serbia)
Perpetually linked with every major European club whenever the summer transfer window rolls around, Milinković-Savić is sought after for good reason and ranks amongst the finest players in the line-up.
ST: Dusan Vlahovic (Serbia)
One of the most expensive centre forwards in history and currently valued at €85 million, Vlahovic rounds off our stunning XI and will soon hope to transfer his electric strike rate for Fiorentina over to Juventus.
So much quality across the countries
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is quite some team.
All in all, it’s an interesting mental exercise to perform and it certainly results in one of the best international sides in the world, especially when you consider that the main contributors to the team – Croatia and Serbia – are already ranked 15th and 25th in the world by FIFA anyway.
You could certainly see that side going far at the World Cup under the correct management and its overall ranking could easily be boosted to knock on the door of the coveted top ten.
Ultimately and most importantly, though, the players from different sovereignties all have their own unique and deeply personal national identities completely separate to any historical boundaries drawn long, long ago.
But one thing that each and every corner of the former Yugoslavian region of the Balkans most certainly has in common is a love and talent for football that brings so many people so much joy.