Ljubinko Drulović was a picture of joy after the final in Marijampole, safe in the knowledge that he will go down in the annals as the man who brought a cherished European national team trophy to Serbia as a result of that hard-fought victory against France.
"A fantastic result, the greatest in the history of Serbian football," he beamed. "I am very happy as the coach who chose these boys a year ago. We have crowned this year after winning the European championship, which has been one big dream for all of us."
A winger in his playing days, the 45-year-old Drulović made 38 appearances for a fine Yugoslavia side at the turn of the millennium. The skilful winger enjoyed the best years of his career in Portugal, winning five Liga titles and four Portuguese Cups with FC Porto from 1994 to 2001. He started out as a coach with modest GD Tourizense, taking up further posts in Serbia, Slovenia and Angola before being appointed as Serbia's U19 national team coach in 2012.
"I finished my coaching 'school' in Portugal," Drulović reflected. "I spent 15 years in Portugal playing for top clubs. I like Portuguese football, I love their aggression, the tactical preparation of the team. I have a lot of friends over there, and I am very impressed by Portugal in terms of football. I spent the best days of my career there, and I had top coaches…José Mourinho, Bobby Robson, Fernando Santos. I saw and learned a lot." A good luck message from José Mourinho buoyed his spirits considerably as his team prepared for their title challenge.
Serbia's first objective in Lithuania was to reach the semi-finals. "I said in Serbia when we were leaving that we were going from match to match, but I did not want to put on the pressure, the obligation to win," said Drulović. "There were many more national teams that were greater favourites than Serbia who have been winning trophies for years. But in life, you always must have a goal. And the first goal was the semi-finals."
Drulović paid considerable attention to detail in analysing Serbia's opponents. "I knew the French have a very good team, we analysed the French team well, and I think we played an excellent match from the tactical perspective. I think we deserved to win, mainly because we played all five matches excellently, against strong European teams, countries a lot bigger than Serbia, they have a much wider choice of players than we do, and they have been at the top of European football for years."
The coach takes great pride in his title-winners' resilience and mental strength. "This is a fantastic generation, who have opened the doors for themselves," he said, "and many of them can become great players playing for great clubs. I am a coach who does not like to overload the players with too many things, I only talk about very important stuff, I don't have many meetings, I don't bother the players with the opposing teams, I primarily want my team be the real one and to cancel the advantages of the opponents."
The future looks very bright. "This will definitely be a great motivation for all the teams within the Football Association of Serbia, and it will definitely be a great motivation for Serbian football," Drulović emphasised. "This is simply a change in mentality; we are a team who came to participate and ended up as the winners…we have to move closer to the European way of playing, speed and quality, which I insist on. That means this will probably help us in the future, to see through this great success that we can stand up against great European national teams.
"And I think, although I won many trophies as a player, this is the greatest success in my sports career, because I have won the first trophy for Serbia – all the others I won abroad. I think that is very important for me, and I am very happy."