A brave Serbian outfit which won the Under-20 World Cup with a shock 2-1 win over Brazil in New Zealand last Saturday, can become a major force at senior level, coach Veljko Paunovic said.
Making their maiden appearance as an independent nation, Serbia delighted their fans in Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium and thousands back home after Nemanja Maksimovic scored a late extra-time winner.
“They can get to the top of the world and I can tell you that there are a lot of good players in this generation who will play in the best games in the world over the next 10 years,” Paunovic told Serbia’s B92 website (www.b92.net).
“This is the time for this generation to grow up and say farewell to youth football and this is the best way to do it.
“It is a massive achievement but the essence is how we did it. Not the kind of football where you dominate all the time, but we defended as if our nation’s fate was on the line.”
Having lost their opening group match to Uruguay 1-0, Serbia advanced into the last 16 with 2-0 wins over Mali and Mexico.
They needed either extra time or penalties to win each of their four knockout round games and showed steely determination in the final against a more talented Brazilian outfit who were strong favourites to win their sixth title.
Serbia’s feat emulated the former Yugoslavia’s 1987 triumph and goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic revealed they drew inspiration from watching footage of a side featuring the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Davor Suker and Predrag Mijatovic.
“The 1987 side were exceptional and I think we’ve proved that we’re just as extraordinary,” Rajkovic, who was named the best goalkeeper of the tournament, told Fifa’s website (www.fifa.com).