Serbia rose against the odds and topped their qualifying group, an outstanding achievement considering they have failed to qualify for the last three major international tournaments. Even in the face of this achievement, the Serbian FA sacked coach Slavoljub Muslin, deeming his 3-4-3 approach as ‘too defensive’, which is a bizarre reason when you see that Serbia scored 20 goals during qualifying. Indeed, they actually need to seriously work on their defence in the build up to Russia 2018 this summer, as, ignoring their games against an inferior Moldova, Serbia conceded 10 goals in 8 games during the qualifiers, which will not be good enough if they are to have any chance of progressing past the group stages at the finals.
On paper, Serbia have a solid team in the likes of Aleksander Kolarov, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic and Dusan Tadic, however, they never made it past the group stage in South Africa 2010, the only World Cup they have qualified for since gaining independence. The national side have had a tendency to freeze when playing on the big stages, and the fear is that it will all prove to be too much for them again this summer.
- Dusan Tadic (Southampton) – Tadic was vital to Serbia’s performance during the qualifying campaign, even though his form seemed to drop in the latter stages. Generally played on the left of midfield for both club and country, Tadic is a skilled dribbler of the ball and is not afraid to run at defences. He is at his best when he is allowed the licence to roam across the pitch in the opposition half, creating chances and opening up defences with decisive through balls. However, it appears that Serbia are over reliant on him far too often, and they have seemed a side that do not know what they are doing whenever he is marked out of the game by opponents.
- Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United) – Mitrovic was impressive up front for Serbia during the qualifiers, scoring six times, including both equalisers in the two crucial draws with Wales. He has demonstrated that he is a hard worker for the team, and that he can step up when the pressure is on. The one cause for concern would be his lack of game time at club Newcastle United. Essentially a reserve, his time spent on the bench may come to be detrimental to his fitness and sharpness, which in turn could be detrimental for Serbia’s chances at this World Cup.
- Mladen Krstajic – Following Slavoljub Muslin’s dismissal by the Serbian FA, Krstajic was appointed as caretaker manager, despite the former centre-back having no experience as a head coach. As an untested individual, should Krstajic lead Serbia into the finals in the summer, his main focus will be to work out a game-plan that doesn’t rely so heavily on the sole creativeness of Tadic.