Serbia are hoping to get third time lucky and progress from the group stage as they are placed in a group that indeed is ‘manageable’.

Serbia have qualified for the FIFA World Cup in Russia only for the third time as an independent nation. They did not qualify for Brazil 2014 and made their other two World Cup appearances in 2006 and 2010. In both those editions, they crashed out in the group stages and will be hoping to be third time lucky to this time progress.

Serbia come into Russia at the back of some good form in qualifying. Serbia were in a group consisting of European Championship semi-finalists Wales and Ireland. Serbia came out as group winners with 21-points from a possible 30 and losing only once en-route to Russia, scoring 20-goals in the process.

Led by young manager, Mladen Krstajic, who took charge in October 2017, Serbia have brought in a group to Russia that is full of experienced internationals as well as many players from their Under-20 team which won the World Title in their segment.

Group & Fixtures

Serbia begin their Group-E adventure with a game against Costa Rica. The Central Americans have been one of the right sides coming into this world cup and in the last tournament, a team that surely cannot be underestimated. This first game will go a long way from shaping the outcome of this group before they face the Swiss nest.

The game against Switzerland will be vital considering Serbia beat Costa Rica. A win over the Swiss in that scenario would mean they could be on course to qualify for the next round, irrespective of the outcome of their last game of the group against Brazil. In all, Serbia needs to plan their route into the Knockout phase by tactically defeating the Swiss and Costa Rica.

The Squad

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

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (AS 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 SV), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade)

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

The Serbians will rely heavily on their more experienced players at the World Cup. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

The Serbians will rely heavily on their more experienced players at the World Cup. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

There is the presence of many high profile names in this Serbian squad, but they understandably lack balance when compared to many teams at the World Cup. This team is more substantial on experience as well as on youth, while they require middle ground, which could prove costly for them.

The driving force are set to be those players with immense experience, in the mould of Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic and Alexandre Kolarov. There are other inclusions like rising midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and promising winger Andrija Zivkovic, but the apparent lack of proper attackers will be likely leaving Serbia dry in front of goal.

The structure of this team is such that they cannot be called even the dark horses as they were termed back in 2010, but if they plan their group well, they could progress. There are some rising stars and some talented individuals who are more than capable of turning the tide in Russia, but against some strong opponents, they might fall short.

The Manager

Serbia will have to rely on manager Mladen Krstajić and his methods to advance at the World Cup. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

Serbia will have to rely on manager Mladen Krstajić and his methods to advance at the World Cup. (Photo courtesy: AFP/Getty)

The introduction of young manager Mladen Krstajic back in October 2017 has been instrumental in Serbia qualifying from their group. Considering the form of other teams such as Ireland and Wales from their group, Mladen Krstajic had to refurbish this side to get the results tactically.

They got their necessary points, often at the back of some sloppy performances from the rivals. Overall, Mladen Krstajic was able to carve out his niche with this squad which is a mixture of tremendous experience and rising youth. His idea was to blend both those generations to create the agile and tactical nous in this team.

Serbia responded to Krstajic’s methods well to bind together and win their group in the qualifiers. Now the real test for the manager begins, as he takes on Group-E rivals, Brazil, Costa Rica and Switzerland. The group, however, looks manageable if played well, but could well surprise the Serbians in case of their usual sloppiness shown at previous tournaments.

Potential Starting-XI (4-2-3-1)Rajkovic; Rukavina, Ivanovic, Tosic, Kolarov; Milinkovic-Savic, Matic; Markovic, Tadic, Kostic; Mitrovic

THT Verdict

As we compare the other teams, on paper, Brazil are the favourites to go through as winners of Group-E, but the other three are more than capable. Serbia’s gameplan against Switzerland and Costa Rica will have a telling effect on their progression, and if they are to win these games, they are sure to go through into the knockout phase.

If all goes as per plan and Serbia end up into the next round as runners-up of Group-E, then there is the inevitable possibility of meeting Germany in their next round. The Germans are heavy favourites and could spell the end for the Serbian adventure. Overall, it could be a tough call to make between the other three teams apart from Brazil, but Serbia stands a chance in Group-E