Serbia head to Russia for their third World Cup appearance as an independent nation, and will be eyeing progression from their group into the knockout stages.
Under the guidance of young coach Mladen Krstajić, who has been in charge of the national side since October 2017, the Orlovi will be seeking to perhaps do a little bit better than in recent years. Before failing to even make the tournament in Brazil four years ago, Serbia didn’t get out of their group in the 2010 and 2006 tournaments, so there’ll be an extra sense of determination this time around.
That said, the team are definitely not as strong as a few years ago when they were being tipped as potential dark horses to win with players such as Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic, but expectations will still be high.
How They Qualified
Serbia were drawn against Wales, Republic of Ireland, Austria, Georgia, Moldova and qualified for Russia as group winners with 21 points from a possible 30.
Having started with a draw against Ireland, they then dispatched Austria, Georgia and Moldova. They then beat Ireland thanks to a goal from Aleks Kolarov to put daylight between the two nations at the top of Group D with Serbia in pole.
In their final game they defeated Georgia 1-0 to ensure a safe progression to the World Cup finals.
It was a pretty impressive qualification campaign, as they scored 20 goals and lost just the once en route to the finals.
Group Stage Games
Serbia find themselves in Group E, with Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Obviously the Selecao will be favourites to go through as group winners, but that second place spot is all to place for.
Costa Rica, barring an unlikely miracle, should be the group whipping boys, meaning the game between Serbia and Switzerland could be vital. They’ll want a positive result to give them every chance of going through, because they take on Brazil in their final group game on June 27.
Possible Route to the Final
If Serbia successfully make it out of their group, they could be looking at games against either Germany, South Korea, Sweden or Mexico in the last 16.
Assuming Brazil go through as group winners, it will mean Serbia are likely to face reigning champions Germany, since they are by far the strongest team in their group. There are no gimmes here though, of course.
Should Serbia advance beyond the last 16, they could then at worst meet England, Belgium, Colombia or Poland – maybe even Senegal.
Mladen Krstajic has announced Serbia’s 27-man preliminary squad, which is as follows:
Goalkeepers: Stojković, Rajković, Jovanović, Dmitrović.
Defenders: Kolarov, Rukavina, Rodić, Ivanović, Spajić, Veljković, Duško Tošić, Nastasić, Milenković.
Midfielders: Matić, Milivojević, Grujić, Nemanja Maksimović, Tadić, Živković, Gaćinović, Kostić, Radonjić, Milinković Savić, Ljajić.
Strikers: Mitrović, Prijović, Jović.
Predicted Line Up
(4-2-3-1): Rajkovic/Rukavina, Ivanovic, Nastasic, Kolarov/Milivojevic, Matic/Markovic, Tadic, Kostic, Mitrovic.
Serbia have their work cut out to qualify for the quarter finals with Brazil almost certain to go through, and Switzerland a decent side. Admittedly though they do have some good players such as Nemanja Matic, Luka Milivojevic, Aleks Kolarov, Dusan Tadic and Filip Kostic.
They aren’t as strong as they were a few years ago and are only ranked 35th in the world but that said, their qualification campaign was nothing short of impressive, and they might, just might, have a semi-final in them. Unless they bump into Germany. Then it’ll be curtains.