In the illustrious history of football, one remarkable feat stands out, a feat achieved by none other than the former Inter Milan legend, Dejan Stankovic.
Despite his incredible journey, he is a player who never tasted victory in the knockout stages of the World Cup. Stankovic’s story is a testament to his versatility and adaptability on the international stage.
Stankovic’s World Cup journey commenced in 1998 during the tournament held in France. At the tender age of 20, he represented the unified country of Yugoslavia. Around the same time, he left Red Star Belgrade to embark on a new chapter with Lazio. In the 1998 World Cup, he featured in three group-stage matches but was notably absent when Yugoslavia faced a heart-wrenching defeat against the Netherlands in the round of sixteen (2-1).
The political turmoil in the Balkans eventually led to the dissolution of Yugoslavia, giving rise to five independent nations in 2001. Born in Belgrade, Stankovic had the opportunity to represent Serbia and Montenegro. His career also took him to Inter Milan, where he continued to shine.
In 2006, Stankovic was selected to play for Serbia and Montenegro in the World Cup hosted by Germany. Unfortunately, their performance on the field was far from impressive. The team finished at the bottom of their group, failing to secure a single point and conceding a whopping 10 goals while only managing to score twice. Their opponents included Ivory Coast, Argentina, and once again, the Netherlands.
However, the ever-changing political and social landscape in the region had another twist in store. A referendum in Montenegro before the 2010 World Cup resulted in the country’s decision to separate from Serbia. This development meant that Stankovic was eligible to represent a third different national team.
With Serbia as his new footballing homeland, he embarked on another World Cup journey, this time in South Africa in 2010. While Stankovic achieved the unique distinction of playing in three World Cups with three different countries, his side faced disappointment once more. Serbia couldn’t advance past the group stage, with losses to Ghana (1-0) and Australia (2-1), despite an unexpected victory over Germany (1-0).
Dejan Stankovic remains a true footballing enigma. He is the sole player to have graced three World Cups with three distinct nations. Yet, his World Cup adventures invariably ended at the group stage, leaving fans and enthusiasts to ponder what might have been if he had the chance to showcase his talents in the knockout rounds.
Sports journalist, content writer and passionate football lover.