The big question for Serbia coming into World Cup 2018 is basically, ‘who are we’? Serbia manager Mladen Krstajic was only appointed in October as a placeholder, then in December was handed the job full time. This put a tumultuous time behind them, and marked the beginning of a new, no-nonsense era led by who many call a ‘Born Leader’. While structure off the pitch my no longer be an immediate question facing this side, the one issue that stands out is what they will look like ON the pitch. With only a few months leading up to the biggest stage to turn the whole program around, Krstajic certainly has a lot to prove. Luckily, as Serbia’s always boasted, he has a roster of world class players to carry out the work.
– Costa Rica
A few highlights of Krstajic’s 23-man roster:
Nemanja Matic (M): The leader on this Serbian national team, the Manchester United midfielder will be looked at to provide stability throughout the middle of the pitch and keep control. A winner of multiple domestic trophies, Matic will need to continue his consistently brilliant 2017/2018 campaign if the Serbians have any chance of getting out of the group stage.
Aleksander Kolarov (D): The Roma Left back, left mid, centre-back, combo is one of the most versatile and accomplished players on this Serbian outfit. Not only has he been a defensive stalwart on league-winning Manchester city side, he has contributed greatly on the offensive end. Over time he has certainly slowed down, but Kolarov has proven over time he’s an incredibly smart player, so this age thing shouldn’t be an issue. His skillset and leadership will go a long way in helping this midfield move the ball forward. If I were a betting man I’d say he chips in a goal or two before this tournament’s out.
Branislav Ivanovic (D): Recently stripped of his captaincy by the new incoming manager, the defender, who’s not known for his scoring, is coming off a blistering goal against Bolivia in friendly just days before the tournament begins. Does he feel he has something to prove? It would be hard to think so, as he’s enjoyed so much success in his club career, but being ‘shown the door’ in a way may be what it takes to light a fire under him. He’ll be relied upon heavily to provide stability in the back, something he should have no problem doing.
While it’s not considered the group of death this time around, beyond Brazil, it’s hard to decisively say who’s going to come out. Serbia is a proud footballing nation that just hasn’t been able to have much success on the international stage. With their managerial change injecting a new system at the last minute it will be interesting to see how they can translate it to the pitch. The good news is they have some vets who should help with the process. I’m going to project a 3rd place finish in the group behind Brazil and Costa Rica, but wouldn’t be too surprised if they take the 2nd spot.