Serbia’s triumph was indebted to the spirit and steel of a group of players whose oft-stressed motto – “one team with one heart” – was tested time and again. No-one should forget, for example, that their dramatic 2-1 final victory over Brazil, secured by Nemanja Maksimovic’s 118th-minute winner, was the fourth in which they had been taken to extra time. None of eventual winners’ knockout matches were settled within 90 minutes, in fact, with the tone having been set in the last 16, when they were seconds away from going out to Hungary.
Grabbing a last-gasp equaliser in that one, then winning it with ten men, had led coach Veljko Paunovic to boast of having “21 lions”. Similar subsequent triumphs over USA and Mali merely reinforced that proud conviction, with the resilience shown in their final, fairy tale win taken by the 37-year-old as the ultimate proof. As Paunovic declared after beating Brazil: “The team that wanted most to win this trophy has won it.”
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