Unbeaten in the league, and in form in the UEFA Cup, FK Partizan are enjoying an excellent autumn.
Having won their first UEFA Cup Group E game 4-0 against Egaleo FC on 4 November, the Belgrade giants won 5-0 at FK Zemun last weekend to remain three points ahead of FK Crvena Zvezda at the top of the Serbo-Montenegrin table. Partizan followed that success with another in the first leg of their cup quarter-final against FK Obilic on Wednesday.
The victory against Egaleo has given Partizan hope of being the first Serbo-Montenegrin club to survive in European competition beyond the winter break since 1992. For that they can thank some fine players from the club's past who chose to rejoin the club.
Goalkeeper Ivica Kralj and midfielder Albert Nadj returned to help Partizan reached the group stage of last season's UEFA Champions League, while defender Zoran Mirkovic followed in the winter break from Fenerbahçe SK. This summer they were joined by old boys Saša Ilic, Dragan Ciric and Ivan Tomic.
With former former defender Vladimir Vermezovic replacing German coach Lothar Matthäus last winter, the combination of an inexperienced coach and a seasoned squad has proved to be an extremely potent one. However, the transition was not painless.
After a 1-1 draw against newly promoted NK Borac in their second game of the season, the Partizan crowd were not impressed, and when Vermezovic's side went in at half-time in their UEFA Cup first-round game against FC Dinamo Bucuresti 1-0 down, with Tomic having missed a penalty, there was mutiny in the air.
However, the second half of that game on 16 September saw a sharp upturn in Partizan's fortunes as they scored three goals before earning a goalless draw in Romania to reach the group stage. "I knew we would need some time to get into form," Vermezovic told uefa.com. "Luckily the pressure from the stands did not tell on my players."
Incorporating all the new signings into the team saw the coach change Partizan's formation. "I have a lot of quality midfielders," he said. "They all have different skills and deserved to be given a chance. All of them had a place. Therefore I dropped the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 formations; I did not need two attackers."
With a packed midfield and Ilic, Ciric and Simon Vukcevic supporting Cameroonian striker Pierre Boya up front, Vermezovic's tactics have paid dividends and Partizan hope to head into the festive season on a high. "We want to go into the winter break at the top of the table and be in the top three in our UEFA Cup group," said Vermezovic. "It will be a success if we manage to stay in the UEFA Cup until spring."
However, the club are thinking big in the long term, and Partizan director Nenad Bjekovic attributes some of that to the example set by another European club. "Our idols are FC Porto," he said. "They started by dominating in domestic football, then secured a regular place in Europe, then won the UEFA Cup, then the Champions League.
"The conditions in Serbia and Montenegro may make it harder for us to do the same," he added. "But a positive atmosphere will help us achieve top results." Veremezovic concluded: "Partizan are growing every day as a club and as a team.
I know that we cannot reach the stars straight away, but maybe very soon."
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