Unbeaten Partizan take title

Monthly review: FK Partizan are the Serbo-Montenegrin champions but other issues remain undecided.

By Aleksandar Boškovic

FK Partizan have won their 19th First League title to secure a place in next season's UEFA Champions League second qualifying round at the expense of arch-rivals FK Crvena Zvezda.

Perfect opportunity
Partizan triumphed with two rounds to spare, drawing 1-1 at FK Zeta on Saturday. If they manage to avoid defeat in their last two games - home to FK Hajduk Beograd and away to FK Cukaricki - they will equal the record set by HNK Hajduk Split's 1950 vintage of lasting the season unbeaten.

Right balance
A key factor has been self-belief, instilled in the team through a combination of experienced old heads - Ivan Tomic, Zoran Mirkovic, Dragan Ciric, plus Albert Nadj and Ivica Kralj - and youthful talent - Simon Vukcevic, Miroslav Radovic, Nemanja Rnic, Nikola Grubješic and Saša Ilic. Coach Vladimir Vermezovicto has fitted these ingredients perfectly into his 4-5-1 template.

Future targets
Partizan also impressed in the UEFA Cup, reaching the Round of 16 where they lost to eventual finalists PFC CSKA Moskva. Their 2-0 defeat by Crvena Zvezda in the Serbo-Montenegrin Cup semi-finals was more sharply felt. No matter, though: Vermezovic has already cited qualification for the Champions League group stage, and a first victory in five years over Crvena Zvezda, as his aims for next season.

Cup consolation
Crvena Zvezda have had a disappointing campaign, and their only consolation would be success in the Serbo-Montenegrin Cup final against FK Železnik on 24 May. The October resignation of club president Dragan Dzajic proved to be disastrous, though they did stay undefeated in three meetings with Partizan. However, Crvena Zvezda's five-and-a-half year unbeaten home run fell to FK Borac, a defeat compounded by last weekend's loss at home to FK Buducnost Podgorica.

Tight finish
Zeta have finished third, making history by becoming the first Montenegrin side to qualify for the UEFA Cup, with Dejan Vukicevic's young team exceeding expectations. With OFK Beograd secure in fourth, there is a scrap behind them for the remaining UEFA Intertoto Cup places, and FK Zemun, Buducnost, FK Obilic and Železnik are the contenders.

Relegation issues
FK Radnicki Novi Beograd and FK Vojvodina have almost guaranteed top-flight survival, while FK Hajduk Kula and FK Smederevo are edging towards safety. With FK Sutjeska and Hajduk Beograd already relegated, Cukaricki look most likely to join them.

With UEFA licensing regulations being applied next season, Football Association of Serbia and Montenegro president Dragan Stojkovic is considering new measures including limiting the First League to 12 clubs from 16, and a name change to Premier League, with the second division to become the First Division of Serbia and First Division of Montenegro.