The familiar routine of crowd trouble at the Belgrade derby should make way for a soccer feast when Serbian champions Partizan Belgrade and city rivals Red Star clash on Sunday after midweek Europa League success, fans and officials said.
Serbia will have two teams at once in the group stages of any European competition for the first time after Red Star knocked out Russia’s Krasnodar and Partizan beat Hungarians Videoton on Thursday.
Red Star advanced from the qualifying rounds for the first time since 2007 in front of 50,000 fervent home fans and their coach Vladan Milojevic wished both teams more success.
“It’s a great thing (that Serbia will have two teams in the group stage),” he told the country’s Beta news agency.
“Serbian football can only benefit from the progress of as many teams as possible.”
The national team’s coach Slavoljub Muslin, a former Red Star player and manager, was just as elated.
“I am happy for both clubs because this is an historic result which will certainly generate a more positive atmosphere,” Muslin said.
Such camaraderie between Belgrade’s big two has been rare in the past three decades, with the former Yugoslavia’s violent break-up and economic depression unleashing unprecedented football hooliganism.
Bloody fights, ending in hundreds of arrested offenders, dozens of injuries and even several fatalities became commonplace whenever Red Star and Partizan met in the battle for domestic supremacy while struggling in Europe.
But Thursday’s success seems to have, albeit temporarily, unified some of the rival fans, who posted scores of well-wishing messages to each other on social networks in the buildup to the SuperLiga showdown.
“Both clubs are through so let’s all celebrate together on Sunday at the Marakana,” said a Red Star supporter referring to the club’s Rajko Mitic stadium, nicknamed after the iconic ground in Rio de Janeiro.
A Partizan fan said: “We are all Serbs first, hence the derby should be a feast for everybody.”
Red Star have been handed a tough Europa League draw, having been pitted in the same group as Arsenal, Cologne and Belarus champions BATE Borisov.
Partizan’s opponents are Dynamo Kyiv, Young Boys and Albanian upstarts Skenderbeu.
The two Serbian clubs are equal on 27 league titles each and Red Star top the 16-team first division on 15 points from five games, three more than Partizan who snatched the title from their rivals’ grasp last season.