Serbia: outsiders or real contenders?

June 9, 2010

Serbia's possible line-up in their probable formation

How many times can a side be labelled dark horses before they cease to be dark horses? Serbia have been hyped up so much as potential overachievers that it’s difficult to know how they’ll live up the billing.

They’ve been in this situation before, ahead of the last World Cup. Then, they’d had an even more successful qualification (having conceded just one goal) but were drawn in a very tough group and crashed out without a point, so their performance will surely be an improvement, at least.

Back then, they were competing as Serbia and Montenegro, and at the risk of being politically insensitive, it’s a shame that Montengero are no longer contributing to this team. Serbia have a fantastic array of defensive players to choose from, and a very competent midfield, but appear to be lacking upfront. Had Raddy Antic been able to select a strike partnership of Mirko Vucinic and Stevan Jovetic – both Montenegrin - then this side would be even better.

Defence

The identity of the four defenders is slightly unknown, such is the strength in depth Serbia are able to choose from. Branislav Ivanovic would probably prefer to be a centre-back but is shunted out to his now-familiar right-back role, because of the competition in the centre.

Nemanja Vidic is a sure starter as long as he is 100% fit after a virus, and will be partnered by either Aleksander Lukovic (creating a nice left-right combination) or the Dortmund’s promising Neven Subotic. Lukovic looks the favourite, but any of the three possible centre-back partnerships are fearsome and no-nonsense.

There is a further battle at left-back between Ivan Obradovic and the exciting Lazio wing-back Aleksandar Kolarov – the former started more during qualification, but the latter is probably the more talented player and is in good form, although probably prefers a more advanced role. Pre-tournament friendly time seemed to be split between the two.

Midfield and attack

Nothing complicated in terms of the nature of this midfield – a holder, a creator and two wingers. Nenad Milijas is the unfussy player who sits ahead of the defence and allows Dejan Stankovic the freedom to move around looking for opportunities to create, although he plays a relatively deep role. Milos Krasic and Milan Jovanovic bring flair to the side and are two to watch out for – both skilful, both natural wingers and both potential goalscorers, and they play advanced roles looking to link up with the two forwards.

That is, if Serbia go with two forwards. Nikola Zigic will definitely start – he’s 6′7 or 6′8 depending on which source you trust – and offers an obvious aerial threat as well as a decent all-round game (“good feet for a big man”). If Antic goes with two strikers, as he did throughout qualification, then he will be partnered with Marko Panetlic, a decent player but far from prolific at international level.

Variation

There’s a suspicion that 4-2-3-1 may be on the cards, however, which would mean Stankovic playing a role more suiting his No 10 shirt, and and a more defensive player being inserted alongside Milijas. This could be Hertha Berlin’s solid Gojko Kacer who might make Serbia’s midfield a little too negative – a more attractive option would be Zdravko Kuzmanovic, a more sophisticated user of the ball but one who sometimes struggles to impose himself on the game.

Conclusion

Serbia should progress, although the first game against Ghana will be a very tough encounter where Serbia will need to get a hold of the midfield early on (hence the speculation about a third central midfielder).

One of the two strikers will need to have a great tournament if Serbia are to cause a real upset, although Antic is a good tactician and with plenty of options in defence and midfield, could outfox opponents who expect them to be about brute force rather than intelligence.

Serbia: outsiders or real contenders?

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