International Football's Great "What If": Yugoslavia 1987

Team 33 speak to Serbian football writer Nebojsa Markovic

Davor Suker, Zvonimir Boban, 1998, World Cup

Davor Suker (left) and Zvonimir Boban (right) of Croatia celebrate their victory over Holland , and third place finish. Michael Steele/EMPICS Sport

In the summer of 1998, Croatia almost achieved something that should normally be out of reach for a country of its population size.

But for the unexpected intervention of two goals from France defender Lilian Thuram, who otherwise did his best work far from the opposition end, Croatia would have reached a World Cup final against Brazil.

A 2-1 defeat though left them with the still enormous achievement of a semi final and they did go on to beat the Dutch in the third/fourth place playoff match to take home bronze medals in a memorable summer for Croatian football.

Individually, Davor Suker would win the World Cup golden boot after finishing top scorer with six goals, and he was ably supported by other elite players like Zvonimir Boban and Robert Prosinecki among other talents like Robert Jarni, current West Ham manager Slaven Bilic and fellow defender Igor Stimac.

Meanwhile, earlier that summer Serbian striker Predrag Mijatovic was scoring the winning goal for Real Madrid in the Champions League final against Juventus, before linking up with what was then known as the FR Yugoslavia (now split into the Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo national teams).

Yet back in 1987, Mijatovic may have been looking forward to a potentially world beating combination with Suker, Boban and Prosinecki.

That year, the Yugoslavia under-20 team travelled to Chile with a team which included a fair portion of the Croatian side that would thrill the world in 1998 and beat the likes of Brazil and West Germany en route to winning the tournament.

Had that side stayed together, who knows whether we would have been looking at future World Cup winners at senior level. Of course, as history attests, the Balkan Wars and break-up of Yugoslavia would occur, forging new nations in the region, with football playing a small role in the shape of a stadium riot which featured Boban kicking a policeman and becoming a Croatian national hero as a result.

This week on Team 33, I was joined by Serbian football writer Nebojsa Markovic to remember the 1987 team and its legacy, which you can listen to on the podcast player below or iTunes: