Whether as an independent nation or as part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has been known for producing physically powerful, technically proficient footballers. As such, they have always been universally respected and widely admired. But adored? Seen as World Cups' relaxed, fun-loving charmers? The neutrals' favourites? That is not a Serbian stereotype most will recognise.

Yet if Veljko Paunovic's U-20 side are viewed that way in New Zealand, particularly in their former Dunedin base, it is a reputation well deserved and hard-earned. For while their football has been gaining admirers, the Europeans have also been winning hearts with an enthusiastic and hugely successful charm offensive.

Paunovic had declared his intentions in this respect, speaking upon his team's arrival of "really wanting to connect with the community". Fast forward several public appearances, school and hospital visits and a gracious speech to the Otago Stadium crowd, and it's clear that these were not empty words. The response, meanwhile, has been unequivocal. "The Serbians," declared one local newspaper, "have turned into Dunedin's darlings."

That sense of goodwill even followed Paunovic's side to Auckland, where they were roared to victory against USA not only by a noisy band of ex-pats, but by yet more converted Kiwis. And if New Zealanders have allowed themselves to be wooed, it is - as Serbia defender Milos Veljkovic told FIFA.com - because they see genuine motives and reciprocated affection.

"There's a lot of warmth towards us and we can see that we've become popular here," he said. "There's no secret to that - we just made the effort to get out and meet people. That's the way the coach wants us to be and we enjoy it. We don't want to be a team that just stays in the hotel and goes to training.

"We've been out to the schools, had fun with the kids - that sort of thing - and just always tried to behave in a nice way. People have liked that about us, and we honestly appreciate them a lot too. We've all loved this tournament, and the country and the Kiwi people have been such a big part of that."

We have good balance, a really strong mentality and a coach who can give us that little bit extra in terms of motivation. I can definitely see us winning this tournament.

Milos Veljkovic

And just as the list of their outclassed on-field opponents continues to grow, so too do the admirers of Serbia's humility and sense of humour away from the pitch. The latter quality was certainly in evidence when Veljkovic offered a light-hearted take on the penalty shootout win over the Americans. Reflecting on the fact that he had failed from the spot, the same fate that befell USA's Cameron Carter-Vickers, a team-mate of his at Tottenham Hotspur, the big centre-half had an amusing explanation.

"Well, we both play in England," he said, grinning. "The English have never been good at penalties, so maybe they're teaching us bad habits!

"It's easy enough for me to smile now because my team went on to win, but I definitely feel really sorry for Cameron. We spoke afterwards and I told him that he was unlucky - that it could have been me in his shoes - and that he played really well, which he did.

"The relief was pretty huge. I had been thinking, 'Please win it before it's my turn' because, honestly, I don't see myself as a penalty taker. Then when I went up, I made the big mistake of looking the keeper in the eyes. I was waiting for him to move but he didn't move at all, so I ended up hitting it pretty badly."

Fortunately for Veljkovic, Serbia survived to fight another day, booking a semi-final date with another of the tournament's surprise packages, Mali. In doing so, they further raised hopes that Paunovic's Class of 2015 could emulate the Yugoslavia side that won this tournament in 1987, putting in lights names such as Boban, Mijatovic, Suker and Prosinecki.

"Everyone still talks about the Yugoslavia team that won in Chile and we know how famous those players became," said Veljkovic. "But although we want to do the same as them, we're not feeling under pressure. We've already had a great tournament and we're just enjoying every moment.

"I do think this can be another special generation though. We've won a big title before (the UEFA European U-19 Championship in 2013) and we feel we can do it again. That's what we're here for. We have good balance, a really strong mentality and a coach who can give us that little bit extra in terms of motivation. I can definitely see us winning this tournament."

And should they do so, these visitors from the other side of the world are sure to find themselves acclaimed like local heroes.