Champions FK Crvena Zvezda and Belgrade rivals FK Partizan look set to continue their duopoly of Serbia and Montenegro's First Federal League when the competition resumes on Saturday.
Crvena Zvezda will turn to youth in a bid to emulate last season's success when they claimed an eighth domestic double. And despite the loss of several experienced players - captain Nemanja Vidic (FC Spartak Moskva), Serbo-Montenegrin international midfielder Dragan Mladenovic (Rangers FC) and defender Milivoje Vitakic (Lille OSC) – coach Ljupko Petrovic is hugely optimistic about the new campaign.
'Most talented team'
"I have not had a more talented team in more than 20 years," said the man who brought the European Champion Clubs' Cup to Crvena Zvezda in 1991. "We want to start well and stay at the top, which will not be easy since the quality of football in Serbia and Montenegro has slowly risen. I am also dreaming of success in Europe."
Petrovic has brought in Dragan Stancic, Milan Bisevac and Goran Popov, but the spine of his side will revolve around the younger players, including goalkeeper and new captain Vladimir Disljenkovic and last season's 25-goal hero Nikola Zigic.
Faith in experience
Partizan, by contrast, are putting their faith in older heads. Coach Vladimir Vermezovic will rely on the experience of Dragan Ciric and Ivan Tomic, goalkeeper Ivica Kralj, defender Zoran Mirkovic, midfielder Albert Nadj and captain Sasa Ilic, who has returned to the club after six months on loan at RC Celta de Vigo.
Vermezovic is desperate to rediscover the winning habit. "A season without trophies is not good enough for Partizan," he said. "Last season we were worn out by the UEFA Champions League and we forgot about the domestic league. I am expecting the experienced players to regain their old shine. Our aim is the title, but it would be good to win the cup too."
Comings and goings
Ljubinko Drulovic, Polish international Tomasz Rzasa and midfielder Vladimir Ivic have all left Partizan, to be replaced by younger players Branimir Petrovic and Nenad Brnovic.
FK Obilic, champions in 1998, remain the only team outside Crvena Zvezda and Partizan to have won the title in the past 13 years. However, FK Železnik, OFK Beograd, FK Vojvodina, FK Smederevo (formerly FK Sartid) and FK Sutjeska are the sides most likely to challenge the top two.
Železnik have improved steadily over the last three seasons and have managed to retain their key players - goalkeeper Oliver Kovacevic, captain Dejan Radjenovic, Jovan Markoski and Zoran Djuraskovic - in preparation for a UEFA Cup second qualifying round tie against FC Steaua Bucuresti.
Despite selling Stancic to Crvena Zvezda, OFK boast talented youngsters in Marko Bosa, Djordje Jokic, Branislav Ivanovic and Igor Matic. Vojvodina, meanwhile, have lost captain Milos Krasic to PFC CSKA Moskva, but welcome back experienced internationals Dejan Govedarica and Ljubisa Dundjerski.
FK Cukaricki, FK Radnicki Kragujevac, FK Hajduk Beograd and FK Buducnost Podgorica are the promoted clubs, though all have played in the top flight before. Cukaricki, under former Serbia and Montenegro Under-21 coach Nikola Rakojevic, could face a relegation battle along with Radnicki Kragujevac, FK Zeta, Hajduk and FK Hajduk Kula.
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