World Cup 2018 is knocking the doors and the 32 participating nations are now highly enthusiastic and fully focused upon completion of club football. They are proud to represent their countries in such a prestigious event and a few of them, on paper, are capable of shaking off their early shambles and turn out to be the ‘dark horse’ of the competition. Serbia are undoubtedly one of them.
Serbia, currently participating as an independent nation, are considered by FIFA and UEFA as the successor of both the Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro national teams. Yugoslavia were an esteemed footballing country since the inception of this tournament back in 1930 and this is the second time they have qualified in the World Cup since their separation with Montenegro back in 2006.
Coach: Mladen Krstajic
Captain: Aleksandar Kolarov
Nickname(s): Orlovi (Орлови, the Eagles)
Last Qualified: 2010
Result in 2014: Did Not Qualify
Qualified From: UEFA
Previous World Cup Appearances: 12 Times
Best World Cup Finals Result: Fourth Place (1930, 1962)
The Preliminary Squad:
Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar).
1) Branislav Ivanovic
May have been past his prime, but the former Chelsea defender will have a huge role to play for in absence of Matija Nastasić who is set to miss the World Cup with an injury. Skipper Aleksandar Kolarov enjoyed a highly impressive campaign with AS Roma both domestically as well as in abroad, but the 34-year-old current Zenit St. Petersburg defender must step up and inspire his side from the back with his enormous experience of the highest order.
2) Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Serbia have several top-notch midfield options in Nemanja Matic, Luka Milivojevic, Adem Ljalic and Dusan Tadic, but all eyes will be on this 23-year-old Lazio youngster who is on the radar of several European heavyweights. Although he has been handed a couple of senior appearances for his country, the midfield sensation is valued more than €110m and the clubs are not afraid of paying such a hefty fee to buy his services. Juventus, the Serie A champions, are currently the frontrunners to have him next season and a successful stint in Russia will increase his value furthermore if a deal is not agreed within next couple of weeks time.
3) Aleksandar Mitrovic
The 23-year-old centre-forward slipped down the pecking order under Rafael Benitez at Newcastle United but a winter loan to Fulham helped him to redefine his form as he netted an astounding 12 goals in 17 games which guided the Cottagers to earn a Premier League promotion. Mitrovic has been in sublime form for his country as well and scored six crucial goals during the qualifiers. He grabbed a brace in a 2-0 win over Nigeria in their last friendly fixture and the manager will be hoping for a similar show during the main event which is set to commence from mid-June.
The Eagles succeeded to top their Group during the qualifiers and made their return to World Cup having missed the previous edition four years back. They played a couple of friendlies in March where they had a mixed experience. They were defeated by Morocco but came back stronger against Nigeria four days later and scripted a comfortable win to uplift their confidence. Serbia will be playing a warm-up fixture on 4th June against Chile which is supposed to be their final preparation before starting their World Cup campaign.
Serbia have been drawn in Group E alongside Brazil, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. They will play Costa Rica in their opening match on 17th of June, followed by Switzerland and the giants Brazil on 22nd and 27th June respectively.
There won’t be an easy way out for Serbia to make it to the Round of 16 of the competition from a group where Brazil are favourites to conquer the title and Switzerland have a strong squad with esteemed names similar to them. They will have to be their absolute best to beat the Swiss and last term’s surprise quarter-finalists, Costa Rica, to proceed through to the knock-outs of the 2018 FIFA World Cup event. Their final group fixture is against the Selecao and the Eagles must ensure their progress before that game.
Euro 2000 marked the last international competition where the nation competed as Yugoslavia, with the side advancing through the group before another defeat to the Netherlands, this time 6-1 in the Quarterfinals.