Ever since claiming the gold medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, Serbia (formerly Serbia and Montenegro, formerly Yugoslavia) have consistently been in the mix when it comes to considering medal contenders for international men’s Volleyball events.
Big, strong and fast, the Serbia side play with a passion that is unrelenting and enjoy playing a game that is offence accentuated.
Serbia have a long history in the sport. Although anecdotes exist to indicate that Volleyball had already appeared in this Balkan country as early as 1918, there is documented proof that in 1924, Californian William Whiland officially introduced the game in 1924. More than two decades later, the Yugoslav Volleyball Federation was one of the 14 FIVB founding members. The national team has participated in international competitions since 1951, when on that occasion they finished fifth at the European Championship.
In 1956 the Yugoslavs contested their first World Championship in France, placing 10th and have qualified six times since, achieving their best result, a silver medal, in 1998 in Japan. In Argentina in 2002 they finished fourth after France deprived them of the bronze medal. But it is at the Olympics that Yugoslavia really showed what they are capable of. They placed sixth in Moscow (1980), improving at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to win the bronze, and finally, as a result of the team's hard work under the guidance of the tranquil-natured, but steady handed coach Zoran Gajic, claimed the gold in Sydney 2000.
Veselin Vukovic replaced Gajic just prior to the 2002 World Championship in Argentina, where the Olympic champions finished a creditable fourth. Vukovic continued to lead Serbia and Montenegro through a stunning 2003 World League campaign, when they lost in the final to Brazil, but after failing to come to an agreement with the national federation Vukovic quit and was replaced by Ljuba Travica who took Serbia and Montenegro to a bronze medal finish at the 2003 World Cup.
For many years the Serbians were led by the sure moves of the Grbic Brothers Vladimir and Nikola, the fatal services of Goran Vujevic, elected best server in the 2006 FIVB World Championships, the stopping blocks of Andrija Geric and Dula Mešter, and in attack the devastating spikes of one of the best young Volleyball players in the world, Ivan Miljkovic.
In 2005, Serbia and Montengro had the great honour of organising the World League Finals. In the incredible final in front of 18'140 spectators in the Belgrade Sports Hall, the host was beaten by Brazil. Ivan Miljkovic was nominated MVP and best server of the tournament, thus becoming the first player in the World League history to be crowned MVP four times (2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005).
The 2006 World Championships was the last competition played by the National team of Serbia & Montenegro. From January 1, 2007, it was down to the National Team of Serbia to try to carry on the success that has brought 15 medals in 11 years.
The year 2007 was the first year as Serbia and the boys in blue, with a new team and younger players, finished ninth place in the World League, the worst-ever result in the event.
They made amends somewhat, though, by claiming silver at the 2007 European championship in Russia.
Igor Kolakovic replaced Ljuba Travica on the bench of the “Blue Team” just before the 2006 World Championships, after assisting him for three years.
Kolakovic was born on June 4, 1965, in Podgorica, where he actually started his playing and coaching career. He played for the VC “Buducnost” of Podgorica and “Partizan” of Belgrade, from 1979 until 1997, when he became Head Coach of the Podgorica Team. He played as a setter, and in 1997 he was one of the most experienced players in the team.
As VC “Buducnost” was looking for a coach, Kolakovic accepted this challenge and practically came to sit on the bench right from the court.
“Setter is practically the ideologist of the game and we usually say he is the coach on the court. I accepted the offer and never regretted it. There is a significant difference between being on the court and on the bench. On the court, you are a player who gives all of his efforts to the team. As a coach, you do not think of yourself, you think of the team as a whole. It is a more complex job, way of thinking, as you must consider everything: organization of training, matches, competitions, event,” said Kolakovic.
It is worth noting that Igor’s wife, Sandra, is the coach of the Serbian Women’s National Handball Team, and former handball National Team player.
“We often speak about sport in general, but neither Sandra nor I discuss just volleyball or handball. We do exchange our experiences, but do not go into the details of each sport,” said Kolakovic.
From his playing career, he stresses the two double crowns (Championships and Cup) he won with VC “Partizan,” "because of the way we lived, worked, played, and had fun”. His specific emotions, when speaking of his coaching career are related to the first of the two titles on the bench of his VC “Buducnost.”
“The quality of this Team is that they all respond when they are called to take part in National Team events. It is obvious that in other sports the cult of "playing for the National Team" slowly disappears. To this moment, none of the Volleyball players ever refused to play for the National Team, so that, together with the players' and everyone else's passion for winning all these trophies, seems to be the greatest quality of the “Blue Team,” said Kolakovic.
The debut on the bench of the same “Blue Team” for Kolakovic was in the World Championships in Japan, and he continued with his work in 2007 and 2008.
“The challenge is enormous and the aims are always the highest possible when we are speaking of the National Team of Serbia. It would be absolutely extraordinary if we entered the contest for a medal in the next competitions,” said Kolakovic.
“In our A Pool, there are very good teams, Brazil, world No. 1, Venezuela, team qualified to the Olympic Games in Beijing beating Argentina on their turf, as well as our old rivals France, team you have to respect all the time. In my opinion, our group is quite fitting, but we will try to reach the Final Six Tournament,” said Kolakovic.