Serbia's squad trying to remind its countrymen and Europe of their talent by booking the fiercest game of the Euros

Serbia's squad trying to remind its countrymen and Europe of their talent by booking the fiercest game of the Euros

Even though most, primarily their own countrymen, wrote off Serbia's national team, for the time being, the Eagles are just one step ahead of their first Euros since 2000 when the country was still called Yugoslavia. InsideSport was no different before the play-off semi-finals. We gave all our attention to the exciting Norweigan side with its myriad of young attacking talents.

Yet, Serbia dominated that match, cancelling superstar Erling Haaland’s ticket for the big continental showdown.

The game was mostly followed pro-form in Serbia yet the usual suspects for harsh criticism have given the country the biggest win since 2013 when Wales with Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen, and others was defeated 6:1. It overshone the World Cup triumph over Costa Rica in Russia too.

Even though extra-time was needed to eliminate the Norwegians, Serbia's squad did it with style points, scheduling a duel with Scotland for a place in the Euros. Perhaps, more importantly, reminding their observing countryman that the talent is still there, and that if Europe has forgotten it, they shouldn't have.

It’s the frequent and illogical managerial changes and deep encroaching agent interests within the football association of Serbia that have turned away the nation from the squad. Yet, it seems that a bold, commanding performance topped off by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s cheeky goal was all that was needed to reinstall serious hype. 

Yet it too was quickly dimmed with the following Nation League matches as Hungary defeated Serbia by using four players of Serbian origin with a high-press on the backline. A victory over Turkey was allowed to slip with lapses in concentration and the best players falling short.

Perhaps for the better, as the duel with Scotland is perhaps the match of two countries with the most pessimistic fanbases, yet the Tartan army prevails in the category. Most have written off Scotland the same as fans did for Serbia versus the Scandinavians in the semi-finals. Although, this time the bookmakers agree and gave the Scottish a low chance of winning at 6.00 with Serbia's win rewarded with a solid 1.66 odd.

Unsatisfactory results have brought the collective feet of the nation back where they belong - on the ground. Although, just a month ago it seemed like they were in football’s mud. Although, it’s hard to judge anyone, even the neutrals, not to get excited when the Euro group Serbia will slot in if they defeat the Scots: England, Czech Republic, and Croatia.

The mini-resurgence comes after turmoil at the managerial position too convoluted even for Balkan standards. The man who led the team through the World Cup qualifiers successfully, Slavoljub Muslin, has been removed before the tournament and replaced by a complete newcomer to the craft Mladen Krstajic.

In July of 2019, to the joy of all fans, he too was sacked but replaced with an option few expected - Ljubisa Tumbakovic. The man once revered by the black and white side of the country supporting Partizan, but also somewhat forgotten as he last led a European club in 2002. His most recent stint before getting the Serbia job was leading the last country to break unity with Serbia - Montenegro.

Tumbakovic refused to lead the Montenegro side against Kosovo - still unrecognized country by the UN - due to his nationality. Soon enough, a phone call from Serbia arrived and after leading Montenegro for two and a half years, 27 games and a win ratio of 25.93% Tumbakovic got the job.

A choice few would've made but the people in the FA as they are led by criteriums of searching for managers who will know when to nod in acceptance. It is a public secret that certain managers have their claws in the national team and use it as a steroid to pump up the value of some players. Resulting in Serbia not utilizing Luka Milivojevic often, and now the doors being closed to Serie A, Premier League, and Bundesliga veteran of 27 years, Matija Nastasic of Schalke, and Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic retiring early.

Most notably, the team’s most capped player ever and former captain Branislav Ivanovic has been cut from the team.

So who does Tumbakovic have at his disposal?

Serbia National Team 2020

On pitch challenges facing Serbia's national team in 2020 are virtually the opposite than what the side had since becoming fully independent and taking on the old-new name in 2006. Over the coming years, the squad had a world-class backline with the mentioned Chelsea icon Ivanovic, Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic, Ivica Dragutinovic of Sevilla, Neven Subotic in his prime, and Aleksandar Kolarov in the back.

While at the front, the country had to rely on players who were cult-favourites in many of their clubs but didn't have the highest quality - Marko Pantelic (Hertha, Ajax), and Nikola Zigic (Valencia, Racing Santander).

Now, the team has a €60,000,000 striker at Real Madrid and he's not even the first choice. With the third option also deemed as a top European talent.

Serbia Key Players

Even though Serbia struggled prior to the Norway match, that being its first win after three games, with big defeats to Portugal 4:2 and Ukraine 5:0 both happening in 2019, the team had a proper spine.

In the backline, be it with four or now more commonly three players, Aleksandar Kolarov is calling the shots. Inter's new player has had a tremendous club career going through Lazio, Manchester City and Roma. With the 35-year-old getting the captain's armband when Ivanovic was forcibly retired.

A set-piece king, Kolarov gave Serbia the WC win against Costa Rica with a beautiful free-kick. Not fully fit for the Scotland match, he is most likely to be subbed off later on.

Even though Lazio has stuck with the €80,000,000 appraisal for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the tall midfielder hasn't been regular for Serbia in past years, not even starting the play-off semi finals. With the 25-year-old only collecting 18 caps for his nation despite his unique skill set that probably grants him the right to steal the nickname of Kai Havertz - Alleskonner. Or Can-do-it-all.

The popular SMS has the strength, effortless technique, aerial presence, long-range bombardment, and ice in his veins - as demonstrated fittingly against the Norwegians - to lead the squad. Tumbakovic at least looks to be able to utilize him properly.

What Europe came to know in the 2018/2019 Champions League run with Ajax going as far as it did - that Dusan Tadic is a maestro, all Serbians knew way before he even landed on the British island. The 31-year-old born no. 10 played on the right-wing, on the left-wing, behind the striker(s) and was always the reason to watch the national team even when the results were bad.

Having a "joke" in his feet as it would be said locally, the vice-captain is a constant headache for the defenders, with his pockets full of the unexpected.

Topping off the spine is easily one of the best target men of the continent - Aleksandar Mitrovic. Mostly known for his wild celebrations and his frequent relationship with the referee’s red square, Mitrogol has been quietly having a tremendous international career. In 59 games he has 36 goals, or to put it better in the last 41 games for his country he scored 34 goals!

Becoming the key player for Fulham, a leader by example as his temperament is reserved only for the pitch, with his club teammates joking that he’s the only one with a 9 to 5 job seeing how much he trains.

Serbia upcoming players

The squad has several youngsters that have the potential to be elite European players, even world-class. Real Madrid didn’t splash out €60,000,000 on Luka Jovic for nothing. Even though the Serbian striker is having mentality issues it seems, giving priority to his relationship rather than football, the goalscoring talent is undeniable.

In the defence, a future in the club of similar stature is expected for Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenkovic. The 23-year-old has already played over 100 matches for Viola and 23 for the national team. The 195centimeters tall defender can play as a right-back too despite his height and has aerial power of a centre-back as well as technique needed for the wide position.

His club teammate Dusan Vlahovic is the third man in attack and the 20-year-old has the physical attributes few strikers possess at his age. Needing to work on his composure in front of the goal, great things are expected from the youngster who also started in Partizan, same as Milenkovic. The two basically smuggled each other out of Florence to join the national team and will face fines in Italy on return.

Serbia finally also has a goalkeeper that might reach a big club as Predrag Rajkovic was the leading man in terms of clean sheets in the top five European divisions before the French authorities stopped the season in Ligue 1. In 27 games played for Reims last campaign, the 25-year-old entering his prime kept his net intact on 12 occasions.

The Eagles' current defensive woes seem like they’ll be short-lived as a 19-year-old Strahinja Pavlovic seems a powerful solution long-term at the centre-back position, with Monaco buying him from Partizan last year for €10,000,000. The left-footed teenage tank already has the physicality for a top central defender and all he needs is playing time, sooner rather than later.

Serbia’s rotational players

The team also heavily relies on Nemanja Gudelj of Sevilla, Palace's mentioned captain Luka Milivojevic, the marauding left-winger or wing-back Filip Kostic who was a part of Eintracht Frankfurt's Europa League side from two seasons ago. His former club teammate Mijat Gacinovic, currently at Hoffenheim, is usually a substitute too.

Right-winger Darko Lazovic (30) slowly arrived at his announced peak and is now the first choice option for Serbia, playing all of the games for his Hellas Verona last season too.

The clash against Scotland and the following Nations League matches against Hungary and Russia warranted for a big team to be invited. But Sassuolo's Filip Djuricic, who has Covid-19, and Werder Bremen's Milos Veljkovic miss out on the team.

Goalkeepers: Predrag Rajkovic (Reims), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar), Emil Rockov (Fehervar), Djordje Nikolic (Basel).

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Internazionale), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina), Stefan Mitrovic (Strasbourg), Filip Mladenovic (Legia Warsaw), Uros Spajic (Feyenoord), Strahinja Pavlovic (Monaco), Nikola Maras (Almeria).

Midfielders: Dusan Tadic (Ajax), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Nemanja Gudelj (Sevilla), Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe), Mijat Gacinovic (Hoffenheim), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Nemanja Radonjic (Marseille), Sasa Luc (Torino), Darko Lazovic (Hellas Verona), Aleksandar Katai (Red Star Belgrade), Marko Grujic (Porto), Mihailo Ristic (Montpellier), Sasa Zdjelar (Partizan), Lazar Randjelovic (Olympiacos).

Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham), Luka Jovic (Real Madrid), Dusan Vlahovic (Fiorentina), Djordje Despotovic (Rubin Kazan).

In a year which saw the only manager who actually made the Eagles play consistently good and made Serbians feel pride for their football national team, Radomir Antic, pass away, the squad can make a surprise return to Europe’s elite.

On name value, the team has every right to do so. Although over one game, with the Scotts gunning for their chance to battle the English at the tournament and having nothing to lose, it will not be easy.

But since the Euros have lost on Haaland, it shouldn’t be deprived of Tadic, SMS, the crazy relic Mitro, and certainly the fiercest game of the tournament between Serbia and Croatia.


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