By Cindy Garcia-Bennett, PA Sport
Bozidar Maljkovic, one of the best club coaches ever to emerge from Serbia & Montenegro, has cited a lack of leadership as the decisive factor in his country's shock elimination from the EuroBasket.
France ended the dreams of hosts Serbia & Montenegro in the elimination round, winning 74-71 in Novi Sad on Tuesday.
The likes of Predrag Danilovic, Aleksander Djordjevic and Vlade Divac were strong presences in Yugoslavian national sides which captured gold medals at EuroBaskets and FIBA World Championships in past years.
No one emerged as a true leader, though, as Serbia & Montenegro failed to make an impact at EuroBaskets 2003 and 2005, and last summer's Olympics.
"We lacked a leader which this team has had in the past 50 years," Maljkovic said to PA Sport.
"We also lacked the right attitude from the players and the executives. And unfortunately, that is it, because the saddest thing of all is this team had quality."
Maljkovic is a legend in the game, having steered Jugoplastika to back-to-back EuroLeague crowns in 1989-90.
He also coached Limoges and Panathinaikos when they captured the European crowns in 1993 and 1995, respectively.
Last season at Real Madrid, his club won the Spanish crown.
Despite his club credentials, he has never been appointed coach of Serbia & Montenegro, although he has been a candidate in the past.
The early exit from this year's EuroBasket means Serbia & Montenegro are now relying on a wild card to reach FIBA World Championship 2006 in Japan.
"Some time ago, I warned that when you win something, there is a reason behind it," Maljkovic said. "When you lose, it's the same case.
"We deserved to lose. We played very badly and now we must make a very serious analysis in order to continue."
The tournament was the last for captain Dejan Bodiroga and Zeljko Rebraca, so Serbia & Montenegro are set to enter a period of transition.
As far as current national team boss Zeljko Obradovic, Maljkovic brushed aside criticism aimed at one of the country's greatest ever players and coaches.
Obradovic has come under fire for lashing out at his players in his post-game press conference.
"It was a very typical press conference by Obradovic," Maljkovic said. "But each coach has his own style."
Maljkovic wants to stress that the city of Belgrade is still a winner this September.
Political conflicts in the 1990s prevented the city from hosting international events.
"It's very sad for us not to have our team still in the competition," he said.
"But we are happy because once again, Europe has come to Belgrade. Belgrade and this nation deserve this."