Team Countdown - Serbia. They could previously hide behind the commendable World Cup record of Yugoslavia, which it inherited. Yet after featuring as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and as Serbia proper in 2010, the Serbs now have no place to hide. They have started to make their own history, and so far, it is not very impressive. In 2010 on their ‘debut’, The Eagles crashed out at the group stage, having won one and lost two.
Their only win then was the kind of result any team in world football would be proud of however; a 1-0 triumph over Germany. A failure to qualify for any major tournament since served as a reminder of a team whose talent on paper does not always show on the field. That qualification for the 2018 World Cup was secured before the final day in a group full of tricky opponents suggests there has been some progress.
Indeed a side which can call on the talents of Nemanja Matic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Dusan Tadic, to name but three, should be qualifying for major tournaments as a given and progressing from finals groups as a bare minimum. Serbia however does not, and it is a reflection of where the country’s team really stands that going into Russia you cannot be certain The Eagles will progress from a group that also features Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica.
How they play
Serbia is functional in its approach; relying on keeping a compact shape in in defence and midfield with its talented playmakers Dusan Tadic and the newly introduced Sergej Milinkovic-Savic providing the creativity.
The Serbs have players who have played at, or play at the top level across the field but particularly in the defensive and midfield positions. Their disciplined football is not always pretty to watch but it could get them across the line in Russia.
The Eagles struggled to keep clean sheets when playing against higher quality opponents in their qualifying group; the calibre of teams they will be facing in Group E..
Nemanja Matic is easily the team’s best and most important player, contributing to its defensive discipline while adding something to its attacking thrust.
One to watch
Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, 23, is so talented his club president values him at more than £90 million, with Manchester United expected to be among the bidders.
Serbia is filled with talented but ageing stars, including the likes of Matic, Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic, but a good number of players from the Serbian side which won the 2015 Under-20 World Cup have since graduated to the senior team. If the gifted youth from the 2015 U20s can gel with the talented old heads, The Eagles have the ability to emerge out of their group.
World Cup Low
Finished bottom of their group in their inaugural appearance as Serbia in 2010.
Serbia are ranked No.35 by Fifa.
How they qualified:
Finished top of European qualifying Group D
WC Appearances: 1
World Cup Record: 2010 - First round
Overall Record: P3, W1, D0, L2
Best performance: First round in 2010
WC High: Beating Germany 1-0 at the
2010 World Cup in South Africa
1. Vladimir Stojkovic
2. Antonio Rukavina
3. Branislav Ivanovic
4. Matija Nastasic
5. Aleksandar Kolarov
6. Nemanja Matic (captain)
7. Luka Milivojevic
8. Dusan Tadic
9. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
10. Filip Kostic
11. Aleksandar Mitrovic