Group E: Serbia out to impress after seeing off Ireland

After topping Ireland’s qualifying group the Serbs go to Russia with high hopes

Serbia (150-1)

Who are they?

They’re the team that topped Ireland’s qualification group. Oh, what could have been. With a few games to go Ireland were well on their way to taking up the spot now occupied by Serbia and setting up a meeting with Brazil. But it wasn’t to be.

This is the second time that Serbia have competed in the World Cup independently after last appearing in 2010 when they beat Germany in the group stage in what was their 12th appearance in total, previously playing as Serbia & Montenegro and before that as Yugoslavia. But they will do so without the manager who guided them here after Slavoljub Muslin got the boot shortly after qualification.

World cup moment

As Yugoslavia they were something of a World Cup powerhouse, almost winning the very first tournament in 1930. After making the journey by boat halfway across the world to Uruguay the eastern Europeans beat the mighty Brazil and Bolivia in the group stages before spectacularly crashing out against Uruguay in the semi-finals with a 6-1 loss.

How did they get here?

Serbia were quite inconsistent throughout qualifying in Group D with Aleksandar Kolarov’s goal in Dublin in September proving to be decisive. While the confirmation of their place went down to the very last game against Georgia they sealed it with a 1-0 win.


The gaffer

Just days after beating Georgia to qualify for the World Cup, Slavoljub Muslin was removed from his position as manager. Mladen Krstajic is still technically in temporary charge and so far has enjoyed some mixed friendly results with wins over China and Nigeria, a draw with South Korea and a loss to Morocco.

The main man

Aleksandar Mitrovic comes into the tournament on the back of some scintillating form for Fulham in their Championship promotion charge. Still only 23 Mitrovic struggled at Newcastle but has found a new lease of life with a loan move to London where he has netted 12 times in 17 games for the Cottagers. Despite his age the striker scored six times in qualifying and looks as hot a prospect as anyone going to Russia.

The one to watch

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is a 23-year-old towering midfielder who has already played 93 times for Lazio. His performances have fuelled rumours of a move to Manchester United and, while he only has two caps so far for Serbia, the World Cup could prove to be his springboard to stardom.

The verdict

With Brazil expected to top Group E with little fuss, it looks set to be a tussle between Serbia and Switzerland for second place. If Mitrovic can maintain his scintillating form Serbia should come out on top in that battle.

The squad

Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (AS Roma), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou R&F), Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Uros Spajic (Krasnodar), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina)

Midfielders: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg SV), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade)

Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK), Luka Jovic (Benfica)