Today we continue to profile, in reverse alphabetical order, the 32 teams which qualified for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, focusing on Serbia.
The Eagles ranked 25th in the world by FIFA were part of Yugoslavia (kingdom and socialist republic) and then of Serbia and Montenegro, before participating solely as Serbia in 2010. Since then, they qualified for the 2010 and 2018 World Cups where they bowed out at the Group Stage, and the 2022 World Cup is their third cup as the nation of Serbia.
A tough tackling team with a reliance on a five-man midfield and a couple of outstanding strikers, the Serbs required a 90-minute score in their last qualifying game to qualify directly to Qatar from UEFA’s Group A, ahead of Portugal, Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, and Azerbaijan.
Placed in World Cup Group G with Brazil, Switzerland, and Cameroon, the Serbs believe they can advance in second place, after Brazil. Given their tough play over the qualifiers including their win over Portugal, and recently over Sweden in a June Nations League match, the Serbs are playing well. Further Nations League matches later this fall against Sweden again and then Norway should serve them well as final barometers before Qatar. Nevertheless, Serbia will find that the Swiss are a tough team to beat in international competition and that Cameroon are an experienced and skilled side, so to progress the Serbs will need their topmost A game and maybe a little luck to boot.
Serbia has been continually inhabited for more than 12,000 years. It is a landlocked nation in southeastern Europe, consisting of 77,474 square miles of mostly plains between rolling hills and mountains, with a mild humid-continental or humid-subtropical climate, whose winters average 32F and summers 72F. The nation has 6.8M inhabitants who are 83% ethnically Serb, 91% Eastern Christian, speak Serbian, have a Human Development Index score of 0.806 (very high), and have a GDP is $157B. Serbia is a unitary parliamentary republic that devolved from the Yugoslav Kingdom, via the Yugoslav Socialist Republic, to the free union of Serbia and Montenegro, to an independent Serbia with claims to parts, or the entire Republic of Kosovo. Situated between the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire and thereafter similarly between larger powers Serbia has enjoyed a multitude of ancient and rich cultural influences. Their cuisine is mostly Balkan with Turkish influences, and they have flourishing musical, literary, theatric, and cinematographic traditions. Their athletes are world renown such as the current number one ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic, and two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic.
Squad (which may change before the cup given injuries, form, and coaching choices—teams mentioned are subject to change given transfers): Goalkeepers—Predrag Rajkovic (Reims), Marko Dmitrovic (Sevilla), Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (Torino), Marko Ilic (Kortrijk), and Mile Svilar (Benfica); Defenders—Matija Nastasic (Fiorentina), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina), Stefan Mitrovic (Getafe), Filip Mladenovic (Legia Warsaw), Strahinja Pavlovic (Basel), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Mihailo Ristic (Montpellier), Aleksa Terzic (Fiorentina), Marko Petkovic (Honved), Erhan Masovic (Bochum), and Strahinja Erakovic (Red Star Belgrade); Midfielders—Dusan Tadic (Ajax), Nemanja Gudelj (Sevilla), Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe), Filip Duricic (Sassuolo), Nemanja Radonjic (Benfica), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Andrija Zivkovic (PAOK), Sasa Lukic (Torino), Marko Grujic (Porto), Uros Racic (Valencia), and Ivan Ilic (Hellas Verona); Strikers—Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham), Luka Jovic (Real Madrid), Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus), Dejan Joveljic (LA Galaxy), and Dorde Jovanovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv).
Path to Qatar
Serbia qualified from UEFA Group A thanks to a refereeing mistake in their final game away to Portugal. But their 2-2 draw at home to the same team showed what the Serbs could do on their best day. The bottom line is direct qualification from their group was not a foregone conclusion and the Serbian team played some of its best football to reach Qatar.
Serbia mostly employs a 3-4-2-1 system relying on what ends up being a six-man midfield with a single-point man on offense. Their weakness is defense which forces the midfield to drop back into a 7-man defensive block. Coach Dragan Stojkovic, who took over just weeks prior to the UEFA qualifiers, is nevertheless an offensive-minded coach and it shows in Serbia’s goal production (18) in Group A, scoring more than Portugal. To achieve that production the midfield became a six-man offensive block feeding their center forward. Their main objective at the 2022 World Cup will be a good showing in their opening game against Brazil, as they fancy their chances with the other two group members against whom they feel they match up well.
The team boasts 17 players plying their trade in one of Europe’s top five leagues and features many players with attacking flair such as the likes of strikers Aleksandar Mitrovic (scorer of the infamous 90+ minute clinching goal over Portugal), and Luka Jovic, aside from Filip Kostic, Dusan Tadic, Dusan Vlahovic and S. Milinkovic-Savic.
Group and Tourney Prospects
The Serbs feel they can qualify from Group G but will be hard put to so do, given not only their opening group match against Brazil but two good competitors to deal with afterward in Switzerland and Cameroon. They will need all of their attacking prowess and a good dosage of defensive nerve to make it and perhaps some good fortune. But, given Brazil are looking to impress from game one, a Tite prerogative but not a Brazilian trait as they usually start slow and build momentum, the opening match may well presage both teams’ progression in the tourney.
Unfortunately for Serbia, Brazil has a particularly strong team this World Cup and the Selecao will be looking to feast on weaker prey to fortify their incursion into the big-boy pool in the knockout round. But, if Serbia survive their group, their next opponent will most likely be Portugal, and the Serbs would relish a chance to show the world their UEFA qualification needed no refereeing fluke. This would become one of the matches of the tourney.
Photo: Aleksandar Mitrovi? – Shutterstock ID: 2147164555 by Alizada Studios