On Thursday (21:30) Maccabi Tel Aviv kick-off their European journey in the newly introduced competition – the Europa Conference League. The first hurdle Patrick van Leeuwen and his charges will have to overcome is Montenegrin outfit Sutjeska. Before traveling to play the first leg in Podgorica, there is no better time to learn about our opponents.

We contacted Savo Pavicevic, former Montenegro international and Maccabi central defender between 2010-2011, who these days is making the first steps to his coaching career. Pavicevic, is currently assistant coach at FK Spartak Subotica in the top Serbian division. Before diving into the professional side of things, Pavicevic wished to emphasize the warm spot he still has to Maccabi, the fans and the good friends he still has from his time at the club.

As for Maccabi’s opponents, the statistics reveal that Sutjeska earned a European berth and a spot in the Conference League qualifiers after finishing the Montenegrin League in the runners up spot, 28 points adrift of Champions FK Buducnost Podgorica. This is the second time in succession Sutjeska finish second in the table having won the championship twice in 2019 and 2018. Pavicevic, highlighted that by saying: “Sutjeska is one of the best teams in Montenegro. The operate very well, as this is a club with good and stable management”.

Sutjeska made their European debut appearance in the 2003/04 and so far have to advance beyond the second qualifying round of either the Champions League or Europa League.

Despite originating from the second largest city in Montenegro – Niksic, refurbishment to their home stadium will see Sutjeska host Maccabi at the DG Arena in the capital of Podgorica. The compact stadium that underwent a recent refurbishment of its’ own (2018) has a capacity of 4,300 fans. COVID restrictions will limit the number of fans allowed in the stadium to 450 only.

“Football in Montenegro is of good level” Pavicevic reveals, “There are 10 teams in the top flight and the quality is good. If you ask me about Sutjeska, their players have a plenty of good quality, and a good combination of youngsters and veterans. They look like a team and play like a team. They are very compact and have players with pace. Sadly I can’t reveal all the secrets because at the end of the day you are talking about a team from my native country”.

Sutjeska’s squad mostly consists of home grown players and quite a few youngsters looking to make the step-up  into the more senior leagues. One of them is Milutin Osmajic, who played a central role last season as he finished second in Sutjeska’s top goal scorers chart with 13 league goals, but he left in the summer to join Spanish outfit Cadiz. “Montenegro is a small country, but one that raised many quality players like Stevan Jovetic, Mirko Vucinic and Stefan Savic. I also played for the Montenegro national team” Pavicevic recalls, “It is a country that lives for football and I can easily say that Osmajic who left is a very good player”.

One who did stay at Sutjeska is veteran striker Bozo Markovic (31) who was the top scorer last season in the Montenegrin league with 16. In midfield one can find Brazilian midfielder Caique with Sutjeska recently signing Marko Zucevic of Serbia. Another noticeable name is right-back Dragan Grivic who played for Montenegro in the 3-1 friendly defeat to Israel six weeks ago.

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So how does Maccabi fare in this tie? We tried understanding from Pavecevic who knows all about the journey Maccabi had been through since his time at the club 10 years ago: “I follow Israeli football every season and know that Maccabi are very strong and win titles every year which wasn’t the case when I was at Maccabi. We had a good team at the time, but these days they are a much more serious club, win trophies, go a long way in Europe, play good football and I only wish them to continue this way”.

Despite all that, as far as Pavicevic is concerned, Maccabi expect a tough challenge in the Balkans. “In my opinion Maccabi will have a difficult tie against Sutjeska” he said, “It should be a good game and if I must compare between Israeli and Montenegrin football I think that many players from Montenegro could easily play in Israel like Jankovic at Beitar Jerusalem. They are players with a lot of talent. I don’t want to predict what will happen, because Montenegro are deep inside my heart and so is Maccabi. They are two clubs that I love and wish them both success’.

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