On paper the strength of the Serbia squad justifies their standing as genuine dark horses this summer. At their helm stands Radomir Antić, who proudly leads Serbia to the World Finals for the first time as an independent nation. At his disposal Antic has an array of talent, many are house hold names accross Europe, but have a reputation for underachieving on the international stage.
If Serbia are to make an impact in South Africa they will need to ensure that they can continue their recent amazing defensive record. Whilst Nemanja Vidić and Branislav Ivanović often grab the headlines, they are ably assisted by Aleksandar Luković. Formally an accomplished left fullback, Luković has developed into a fine centre back during his time in Serie A with Udinese and regularly partnered Vidić in the qualifying stages. Luković’s move to the centre has enabled Aleksandar Kolarov to cement his place on the left side of defence. Renowned for his attacking abilities, Kolarov is at his best when employed as part of a 5 man back line, allowing him the freedom to make his buccaneering runs forward.
Ironically for a team with such a strong defensive record Serbia arrive in South Africa with a question mark over the position of goalkeeper. Of the 3 goalkeepers in the squad only Vladimir Stojković has more than 5 caps for the national side, and whilst Stojković will wear the No.1 jersey in the first game against Ghana, Wigan Athletic fans will be more than aware of his frailties after a couple of indifferent games in his spell on loan from Sporting Lisbon this season.
Marshalled by the experienced Dejan Stanković, Serbia’s midfield boasts creativity in all positions. Partnering Stanković is Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Nenad Milijaš who has had an indifferent first season in the Premier League partly due to his lack of pace. The slower pace of international football suits Milijaš, giving him the opportunity to slice defences open with his cultured left foot.
Any lack of pace in the middle of the park is offset by Miloš Krasić and Milan Jovanović. Serbia’s wing men could be two of the stars of the World Cup. Both have come been in outstanding form for their clubs this year, with Jovanović being named player of the year in the Belgium League. For a winger Jovanović has a keen eye for goal, averaging almost a goal every other game in 146 appearances at Standard Liege. In Zoran Tošić, Serbia have the perfect impact player to come off the bench to change the game. A precocious talent, Tošić has made a huge impact at FC Cologne at the end of the current season, after arriving on loan from Manchester United.
In Nikola Žigić, Serbia have a perfect target man, giving the flexibility to play either one or two up front. This flexibility and a lack of depth in attacking options may have led to the decision by Antic to take just four forwards to South Africa. Of the remaining three, Danko Lazović and Marko Pantelić will fight it out to partner Žigić.
In recent years Serbian sides have received some fierce criticism from their own media. The perception is one of lacking a killer instinct and on occasion too defensive in their approach. Antić should be able to instil in the side a harder mental edge and if he can get the balance right by letting his exciting attacking players express themselves whilst keeping the defence tight then Serbia may longer be known as just a strong team on paper.
Serbia 2010 Squad
Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojković (Sporting), Bojan Isailović (Zaglebie Lubin), Andjelko Djuričić (Uniao Leiria).
Defenders: Branislav Ivanović (Chelsea), Antonio Rukavina (null Munich), Nemanja Vidić (Manchester United), Neven Subotić (Borussia Dortmund), Aleksandar Luković (Udinese), Ivan Obradović (Zaragoza), Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio).
Midfielders: Dejan Stanković (Inter Milan), Gojko Kačar (Hertha Berlin), Nenad Milijaš (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Zdravko Kuzmanović (VfB Stuttgart), Radosav Petrović (Partizan Belgrade), Miloš Krasić (CSKA Moscow), Zoran Tošić (Manchester United), Miloš Ninković (Dynamo Kiev), Milan Jovanović (Liverpool).
Forwards: Nikola Žigić (Birmingham City), Marko Pantelić (Ajax Amsterdam), Danko Lazović (Zenit St. Petersburg), Dragan Mrdja (Vojvodina Novi Sad).