They may not have won the match, but 17 September 2011 will be remembered as one of the most significant dates in the history of Serbian women's football after Suzana Stanojević's side held England to a 2-2 draw in their opening UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying match.
Up against one of the pre-eminent forces in the women's game, Serbia rallied from two goals down to seal a share of the spoils, Rachel Yankey and Sophie Bradley's strikes being cancelled out by efforts from Danka Podovac and Vesna Smiljković, the latter equalising in added time. For Stanojević, a draw against the 2009 runners-up and 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-finalists represents a significant milestone for a national team that only came into being in June 2006.
"We proved to ourselves that we have more than talent," said Stanojević, a former Serbian international. "We have our system and we will continue to build on it. This will serve as a huge boost for us to keep moving forward."
The 41-year-old puts the result in Belgrade down to hard work and the success of a carefully hatched strategy that was put in place to take Serbia's fledgling national team to new heights. "We had a two-year plan," she said. "We started by borrowing some ideas from our men's football and adapted it to the women's game. All of our players start out in the Under-17s, play in the same 4-3-3 formation and learn the same tactics.
"This model, for me, is the priority, but yesterday's result has given us wings. We will continue to learn, work hard and play in the same way and see what benefits that reaps – maybe we will finish second in the group and qualify for the play-offs, but that is still a long way off and I do not want us to get carried away now. We must keep our feet on the ground and believe in better days ahead."
The opening of the Football Association of Serbia (FSS)'s new sports centre has also helped the women's national teams develop and improve at the highest level, but quite whether they can improve on the England result against 2009 semi-finalists the Netherlands in Velsen on Wednesday remains to be seen. "This system is the best weapon," added Stanojević. "With the talent we have and a lot of hard work, you can achieve top results. But we have shown great team spirit and I am really satisfied with that.
"Next week, the Netherlands will be big favourites. For us, it will be a measure of where we are at the moment, and whether or not we can play two tough, top-level matches within a matter of days, but I will not change anything. And the result is not our main target – our main aim is to improve our game, the way we play and our team spirit and if we get a result too that will be an extra present; that would be fantastic."
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