World Cup 2018: Serbia Preview

RealSport take a look at Serbia's credentials at this summer's World Cup.


Reuters/MARKO DJURICA

Approaching their third World Cup as ‘Serbia’, the Eagles have high expectations to reach the knockout phase for the first time since parting with Montenegro. Waltzing through their mediocre qualifying group, the real acid test will come in Russia for Mladen Krstajić’s side in facing the favourites for the tournament – Brazil.

They are joined in Group E by Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica, with their opening match on June 17th.

Route to the finals

Serbia came out on top of the four-way battle between themselves, the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria in Group D of the qualifiers. Despite leaking goals, the enigma that is Alexandar Mitrovic netted six times, noticeably a double in a crucial 3-2 win at home to Austria.

Despite a turbulent season with Southampton, Dusan Tadic provided the joint second highest amount of assists in Europe with 7 throughout the qualification campaign.

Starting XI

The Fulham striker, Alexandar Mitrovic, is expected to lead the line in Russia, with Tadic, Ljajic and Milinkovic-Savic all in contention to supply from deeper. The latter was arguably the reason for an overhaul in management following their successful qualifying campaign. 

Slavoljub Muslin’s refusal to select the Lazio youngster led him to fall out with the Serbian FA, eventually losing his job. Mladen Krstajic is now tasked with the job of forging a successful World Cup venture, along with keeping the powers-that-be content.

Familiar faces Nemanja Matic, Alexandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic are likely to start their World Cup opener, with experience at the highest level oozing from every pore.

Key Player: Nemanja Matic

Making a living out of frustrating some of the most talented players in world football, the Man United midfielder is crucial to Serbia's chances of success in Russia.

Reuters/HEINZ-PETER BADER

The 29-year-old flourishes in his role of putting out fires, managing to escape with the ball from seemingly impossible positions on the pitch, using his tall, wiry frame to plant himself in between the opposition and the ball.

The goals have dried up recently after enjoying a handful of goals in the colours of Benfica and Chelsea, however, his defensive stubbornness creates a base from which Serbia can build from.

Group Stage

Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica. 

Serbia's biggest test comes against their European compatriots, Switzerland. In a group overshadowed by the might of Brazil, Serbia and Switzerland are realistically vying for second spot - under the assumption that Costa Rica can't repeat their historic magic of four years ago.

Reuters/HEINZ-PETER BADER

Crucially, Serbia play Costa Rica first whereas the Swiss have to take on Brazil. Getting three points on the board in their opener could prove invaluable going into their second fixture with Switzerland.

Playing Brazil last could potentially prove beneficial. Teams sitting on six points have been known to rest players going into the final group fixture, with the door perhaps being left ajar for Serbia to pounce.  

Prediction: Group Stage exit

With a blend of youth and experience, Serbia have the capabilities to escape Group E amongst tough opposition. Their fixture order has been kind to them, however, the Eagles may find themselves too reliant on the goals of the unpredictable Alexandar Mitrovic. 

Aleksandar Prijović and Luka Jovic have been tasked in the role of understudy to the Fulham striker, however, with just one international goal between them and a lack of first team experience, depth is clearly an issue.

Matic, Tadic, Kolarov and Ivanovic will keep the Premier League neutral happy when watching their matches; even with this experience the term 'dark horse' doesn't quite apply to this side who still have vulnerabilities. 

Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss the potential winners of the World Cup in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.

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Lewis Watson

London-based football writer and former boxing editor, with a specialised eye for sports betting. Featured on Betfair, BetVictor + others.

A Munich pilgrim to witness Chelsea winning their maiden European Cup.

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