Manager: Mladen Krstajic
Other teams in group: Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica
Quite a number of changes has been made since qualification was secured by the Serbians. Branislav Ivanovic was stripped of his captaincy to be replaced by Aleksander Kolarov. The major change was the introduction of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic with previous manager Slavoljub Muslin having been reluctant to play the young midfielder. Krstajic seems to be willing to make him an important part of the side. The amount of personal changes, both in playing staff and management, has made a number of Serbian fans sceptical as to their chances.
The squad in full:
Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar).
Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (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), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade).
Strikers: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica).
HOW THEY GOT HERE
Serbia qualified as a result of topping Group D in the European qualifiers. This was ahead of the likes of Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria. An extremely tight group saw qualification come down to the very end. Three sides only suffered one loss in the campaign but critically Serbia managed one more win than the others, emerging undefeated against Ireland and Wales also counted in their favour. No other side of the major seeds managed both wins against Georgia either whilst winning in Dublin, when down to ten men, was also a crucial aspect in their progress. Defeat away to Austria caused jitters but it was sealed upon a narrow victory over Georgia at home on the final day.
Qualification was not enough to keep then manager, Slavoljub Muslin, in his job. The Serbian FA issue a statement thanking him for helping them qualify for their first tournament since 2010 World Cup. “The FSS decided to part company with Muslin by mutual consent. His assistant Mladen Krstajic takes over as the caretaker until a new head coach is appointed." He was later confirmed as the permanent replacement for his former colleague.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR
The striker managed to finish top scorer in the group with six goals. Since moving to St. James Park, he was perhaps more known for his combative nature, than his scoring exploits. Drifting in and out of the side eventually saw him go on loan to championship side Fulham. A rebirth of form there helped the London side to gain promotion back to the top flight. He was an integral part of the under-19 European winning team in 2013 and his presence undoubtedly allows the side a focal point to aim at, especially playing up front on his own.
Perhaps one of the most in-demand young midfielders in Europe at the moment. The Lazio player managed twelve goals and numerous assists as the Rome side narrowly failed in its aim to reach the Champions League. Naturally, many of the major European side are currently circling for his signature. It is perhaps an indication of his importance to the national team despite his relative inexperience. He is the primary attacking central midfielder responsible for providing support to Mitrovic. A starring tournament can only make his price tag higher.
Having been a crucial part of Chelsea’s title winning side of 2017, it came as a shock when he was allowed to leave to join Manchester United. It may have been the lure of José Mourinho, the London side signing replacements or desire to have new challenges. Either way, he has been a massive part of United’s season this year. Him and Luka Milivojevic also allow for a shield in front of an aging defence which may prove critical against the likes of Brazil.
WHERE THEY ARE PLAYING AND STAYING
17/06: Serbia v Costa Rica: Cosmos Arena, Samara
22/06: Serbia v Switzerland: Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad
27/06: Serbia v Brazil: Otkritie Stadium, Moscow
Serbia are based in Svetlogorsk. Up until 1947, it was known as Rauschen, as it was under German occupation. It is located on the Baltic Sea, not far from Kaliningrad. This will obviously be close to their second group game, which might prove important to chances of progression.
THREE INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT THE TEAM
Mladen Krstajic was brought into the role, despite having not previously held a senior coaching position before. Initially as a caretaker, he was seen as a manager who was seen as more likely to introduce more of the players who won the 2015 under-20 World Cup. He also had a solid playing career. Going into the 2006 World Cup, he was part of the Serbia and Montenegro defence who only conceded one goal in qualification.
Serbia’s debut as a solo nation saw them inflict a one-nil defeat on Germany. Which was their only loss until they played Spain in the semi-final. It did not stop them from finishing bottom of the ‘group of death’ that particular year. A draw in the final game against Australia would have seen them advance. Instead, they lost two-one.
Serbia have been listed as being either part of the World Cup since 1930 or making their second appearance. This is due to their obvious association with the former Yugoslavia. The break-up of the region since the early nineties has meant that the name of the team competing has altered much over the last twenty years. Not many players exist from the last side under the Yugoslavian title.
THEIR RECENT FORM
Some of the erratic form in their group has carried into their warm-up games. They lost to Morocco in March (2-1) before beating Nigeria (2-0) a few days later. Recently, Chile, who failed to progress from South America, defeated them thanks to a late goal. Another team from said region proved less resistant as an Aleksander Mitrovic hat-trick eased them past Bolivia.
First game: The Serbs play their opening game against Costa Rica in Samara on 17th June.