In 1991, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began to disband during a series of violent wars. Croatia, which would become a water polo super power, became an independent state during this time, but two republics stayed unified as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
In 2003, Yugoslavia was renamed the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. In early June of 2006, Montenegro and Serbia declared their independence from one another.
But just over a week later, Serbia and Montenegro, still a unified team despite the recent political division in their country, would compete in the FINA Water Polo World Cup in Budapest.
The team would win the gold medal in a 10-9 overtime match against the Hungarians, who were playing at home. A year earlier, they had defeated Hungary 8-7 in Montreal to claim the FINA Men’s World Water Polo Championship. In 2004, the team won the silver medal at the Olympics.
On Sunday, the Serbians and the Montenegrins will again play for water polo hardware, this time in the 2008 Olympic men’s water polo bronze game. But they will not fly their unified Serbia and Montenegro flag, pictured above. In this match, they will meet as opponents.
Serbia has outscored their opponents 64-53 in seven Olympic matches, while Montenegro has only allowed 44 goals while scoring 65.
Montenegro lacks depth in their rotation, but they have given solid performances such as their 10-10 tie with Hungary in the preliminaries. The Montenegrins beat Croatia by one goal in the quarterfinals before losing to Hungary in the semifinals.
Serbia lost to Croatia 8-11, one of the two team’s common opponents, in the preliminaries. Montenegro and Serbia's other common opponent was Spain, whom Montenegro beat 12-6 in the preliminaries. The Serbs beat the Spaniards 9-5 in the quarterfinals, but lost to the U.S. 10-5 in the semis despite winning the preliminary match with the U.S. 4-2.
The United States will face Hungary for the gold medal. The Hungarians have won the last two Olympic Games, while the U.S. was ranked ninth in the world coming into Beijing.