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World Cup Preview – Serbia (20/32)

Serbia

UEFA

Group E

Best WC Performance: 4th x2 – 1930 and 1962 (As Yugoslavia)

Current World Ranking: 35

History

One of the more colourful World Cup histories, though not necessarily for the nicest of reasons.

The only national team to have competed at the World Cup as technically five different countries. As part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, they fell in the semi-finals in the first ever World Cup in 1930, as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia they managed three quarter-final appearances and a semi-final spot between 1950 and 1990.


They made their only appearance as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1998 (they qualified for USA 1994 as SFR, the subsequent breakup of the country, change to FR, and military conflict saw them disqualified), and their only appearance as the combined Serbia and Montenegro in 2006.

Finally, in 2010 they entered the tournament as Serbia.

Non-qualifiers last time round, a period of more political stability will surely benefit Serbia in a footballing sense moving forward.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar).

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou R&F), Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Uros Spajic (Krasnodar), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina).

Midfielders: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade).

Strikers: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica).

Group Fixtures

  1. Vs Costa Rica 1300, 17.06.18                   Cosmos Arena, Samara
  2. Vs Switzerland 1900, 22.06.18                   Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
  3. Vs Brazil 1900, 27.06.18                   Otkritie Arena, Moscow

Manager – Mladen Krstajic

Mladen Krstasic is one of the biggest rookie managers at the tournament. The national team job is his first in management, having initially joined as a coach in 2016.

The former Bremen and Schalke centre-back is effectively on trial for his job at this summer’s tournament. A strong performance, with at least qualification from the group stage a priority, and he could be given the reins long-term.

Qualification

In a group that could be considered reasonably tough, Serbia did enough to finish top.

In the same group as Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria, who would prove much sterner tests than the whipping boys of Georgia and Moldova. In fact, out of six games against those three, Serbia only managed a win in one, against RoI.


On the other hand, they only suffered a single loss, against Austria, so a more than satisfactory performance overall.

Captain – Aleksandar Kolarov

Every English fan will be well aware of the Serbian captain. A tremendous long-serving left-back at Man City, at times perhaps the best in the league. Now 32, he is still going strong at Roma.

With over 70 caps for the national side, his experience and consistency could prove key to Serbia navigating their way through the group.

Danger man – Dusan Tadic

Serbia’s attacking options are somewhat limited, but one familiar face from the Premier League could prove to be the difference.

Dusan Tadic is coming off the back of another solid if unspectacular season at Southampton, and so this summer the wily winger has the opportunity to express himself on the biggest stage.

His determined runs and long-distance shooting skills could prove invaluable against sides where Serbia may not see much of the ball. Expect him to pick up a goal or two in the group stage.

Young Player – Andrija Zivkovic

The Benfica winger Andrija Zivkovic could be a breakthrough performer at this year’s tournament.

A key player in the team that won the 2015 Under-20 World Cup, Zivkovic is the youngest ever debutant for the senior team.

Though not yet a guaranteed starter at his club, Zivkovic is beginning to make waves around Europe, with some of the bigger sides sniffing around. A big World Cup performance will only increase that interest in him.

Premier League Players

The Serbian squad reads like a who’s who of Premier League players past and present. Currently plying their trade in England are the aforementioned Tadic at Southampton, FPL favourite Luka Milivojevic at Palace and the revitalised Nemanja Matic at Man United, with Marko Grujic on loan from Liverpool at Cardiff in the second tier, and former Newcastle big-man Aleksandar Mitrovic at Fulham.

Add to that the defenders Ivanovic, Kolarov and Nastasic who played at Chelsea, Man City and Man City respectively, and there will be plenty of Serbian players at the tournament that Premier League fans will recognise.



Prediction

A tough one to predict. Of course Brazil are favourites to top the group, and so we’re really talking about the battle for second place here. In some ways Serbia have the most favourable fixture order of the other three contenders, but on the other hand, a final match against Brazil could be the make-or-break result, which is hardly ideal.

Though Costa Rica appear ten places above Serbia in the FIFA rankings, anything other than a win for the European side would be a shock.

A tough game against the Swiss is much harder to predict, so I’ll hedge it and predict a draw.

And then a loss against Brazil is about as nailed on as any result can be.

So 4 points, which could well put them level with Swiss, means it could all come down to goal difference.

If they do manage to make it through, Serbia will almost certainly face Germany in the next round. If I were a betting man, I’d say in spite of the Premier League and other European league talent in the side, they won’t make it that far.

Written by Jackson Rawlings. 

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Premier League Table

# Team MP W D L P
1 Arsenal 0 0 0 0 0
2 Aston Villa 0 0 0 0 0
3 Brighton & Hov… 0 0 0 0 0
4 Burnley 0 0 0 0 0
5 Chelsea 0 0 0 0 0
6 Crystal Palace 0 0 0 0 0
7 Everton 0 0 0 0 0
8 Fulham 0 0 0 0 0
9 Leeds United 0 0 0 0 0
10 Leicester City 0 0 0 0 0
11 Liverpool 0 0 0 0 0
12 Manchester City 0 0 0 0 0
13 Manchester United 0 0 0 0 0
14 Newcastle United 0 0 0 0 0
15 Sheffield United 0 0 0 0 0
16 Southampton 0 0 0 0 0
17 Tottenham Hotspur 0 0 0 0 0
18 West Bromwich Albion 0 0 0 0 0
19 West Ham United 0 0 0 0 0
20 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0 0 0 0 0

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