A brief history...
The Balkans region has produced some wonderful footballers but only once has a team from this southern corner of Europe tasted glory in the continental competitions and that team was Red Star Belgrade - or 'Crvena zvezda' as they are known in their home country.
The club from Belgrade, capital of Serbia and Montenegro, began life on 4 March 1945. Founded by members of an anti-fascist association, who chose the red star as their symbol, they were soon adopted as a symbol of Serbia, a sporting institution that remains the country's most popular to this day. Of the nine million people in the modern-day Serbia and Montenegro, roughly two-thirds support the team from the Marakana.
Their popularity owes much, of course, to decades of footballing excellence. They fast became one of the former Yugoslavia's leading sides, competing regularly for titles with neighbours and arch-rivals Partizan, as well as Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. By the 60s and 70s they began to dominate at home, winning the league eleven times during this period, while also making their mark in Europe. Dragan Dzajic was the leader of this team, who thrilled spectators at home and abroad with their brand of 'total football'.
Playing in front of 100,000 in their Marakana stadium, they built a proud European tradition, reaching two European Champion Clubs' Cup semi-finals and a UEFA Cup final. Their first European Cup semi-final came in 1957, where they lost to Fiorentina 1-0 on aggregate, and in 1971 they went even closer in their last-four meeting with Panathinaikos. After beating the Greeks 4-1 at home in the first leg, they went down 3-0 in the return in Athens, thus losing on away goals.
After another near miss, with defeat by Ferencvaros in the 1975 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup semi-final, they finally got to a major European final in the UEFA Cup in 1979 before going down 2-1 on aggregate to Borussia Monchengladbach. Another 12 years on, however, a dream was fulfilled as in 1991, they defeated Olympique Marseille on penalties to win the European Cup in Bari. That same year, fired by the goals of Darko Pancev, they also captured the league and cup double.