Serbia-Montenegro to Play Last Team Match

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 4:56 AM

BILLERBECK, Germany -- Serbia-Montenegro's game against Ivory Coast on Wednesday will mark the last time the "Hey Slavs!" Yugoslav anthem is played at a soccer stadium. And it will be the final occasion the country's blue, white and red flag will fly above a sporting venue.

Maybe, in terms of soccer, that's a good thing.

"After the match on Wednesday, we are putting a full stop," midfielder Dejan Stankovic said Monday. "We are starting with a new country, a new team, a new flag, a new anthem and hopefully better results."

The game in Munich has no meaning because both Serbia-Montenegro and Ivory Coast have been eliminated from the World Cup, with Argentina and the Netherlands already advancing from Group C.

But it will go down in history as the last match for Serbia-Montenegro, the final vestige of old Yugoslavia. The country formally split last month when Montenegro voted for independence.

The Yugoslav anthem, despised by Serb fans because it reminded them of the old communist federation, regularly draws boos and jeers, leaving players shifting with unease.

As the successor state, Serbia will keep the FIFA membership. Montenegro, already applying for a seat with soccer's governing body, hopes to take part in qualifying for the next World Cup.

This team is certainly not making its final appearance a memorable one. It lost to Argentina 6-0 on Friday _ one of the worst defeats in the team's World Cup history. The previous worst was a 6-1 loss as Yugoslavia in the 1930 semifinals against Uruguay.

Serbia-Montenegro's appearance in Germany is the national team's 10th trip to the World Cup, but the first _ and last _ under that name.

Serbia-Montenegro's team spokesman Aleksandar Boskovic said that Serbia will play its first match as a single country in a friendly against the Czech Republic in Prague on Aug. 16.

"From the golden city of Prague, we hope to start our golden future," Boskovic said.

The World Cup has been anything but golden for Serbia-Montenegro.

Nothing has gone right for the team, beginning with an opening 1-0 loss to the Netherlands. Since then, the team _ which includes only one Montenegrin, goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric _ has had to deal with problems ranging from injuries to squabbles over tactics and confrontations between players at training sessions.

Captain Savo Milosevic, who announced he will retire from the national team after the World Cup, said it could be hard for the team to improve against Ivory Coast.

"The Ivorians are a strong team," Milosevic said. "But, all 30 other teams at the World Cup are tough enough for us considering the state we are in."

With leading scorer Mateja Kezman out because of a red card, midfielder Ognjen Koroman with a pair of yellows, and defenders Nemanja Vidic and Ivica Dragutinovic out with injuries, Serbia-Montenegro "has nothing to gain" in its final soccer appearance, Milosevic said.

"The motive," he said, "was killed after the Argentina game."

© 2006 The Associated Press