Serbia announced the 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar containing one of the most mesmerizing attacks in the tournament. 57-year-old coach Dragan Stojkovic will be in his first major international contest as a manager, having played the competition before as a player, after guiding Serbia to their third World Cup as a free nation. The Eagles will hope to end the streak in Qatar of getting eliminated in the group stages from their last two World Cups.
As an independent nation, Serbia competed in two World Cups in 2010 and 2018, failing to qualify for the 2014 tournament in between. This will be their third participation on the mega stage of international football. As the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, their first entry came in the first-ever tournament in 1930 followed by the most number of participations with seven as the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia and once each as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia & Montenegro. Their best performance, including all, has been in 1962 in Chile when they finish fourth. They haven’t reached the knockout phases since 1994. The current manager of the side, Dragan Stojkovic is among the record appearance-maker for his nation with nine matches while Dražan Jerković's four goals at the 1962 FIFA World Cup were enough to secure him the shared Golden Boot Award and make him the top scorer at World Cups for the SFR Yugoslavia and its successor associations.
Serbia were drafted in a similar group as of the 2022 World Cup in 2018 with Brazil and Switzerland their opposition back then too. They lost to both of them and only a cracking free-kick from now-retired Aleksandar Kolarov settled the win against Costa Rica. Beginning with a win against the North American nation, expectations were to grab a victory or at least a draw against Switzerland to have a chance of qualification to the last 16 stages. However, they lost to a second-half comeback from the Swiss with Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri scoring a late winner to replace a 5th-minute opener from Aleksandar Mitrovic. Shaqiri sparked a lot of controversy with his Albanian Eagle celebration that he was fined by FIFA along with Xhaka, who did the same, for the stark political gesture. Serbia could not make the most of the fury generated from the game and lost again, 2-0 to Brazil in the last group stage game to dump out of the competition.
Serbia’s qualification for the 2022 World Cup finals was dramatic, requiring a stoppage-time winner from their talismanic forward Aleksandar Mitrovic to overtake Portugal for the automatic qualifying spot in the last game. It was also a moment of remediation for the Fulham player whose missed penalty in the Euro playoffs penalty shoot-out against Scotland last year prevented Serbia from entering that competition. The Eagles ended the campaign unbeaten, winning six of the eight games and drawing the other two. Undoubtedly, Aleksandar Mitrovic registered the most strikes for his nation with eight and was the fourth-best goal-scorer in the European qualification. Dusan Tadic unlocked his creative brain making six assists of the 18 total goals scored for the team.
Preparation for World Cup
Dragan Stojkovic’s men had a slow start to their Nations League campaign with a 1-0 loss to Norway in the first game of the competition back in June. They already played two friendlies before that match-winning against Hungary but falling to a 3-0 defeat to Denmark. From there, Serbia turned back and did not lose any more games in the season defeating Sweden 4-1 and taking revenge on Norway 2-0 in the last two games in August to confirm promotion to League A. They are a great scoring side proven again by their 5-1 thrashing of Bahrain in the pre-World Cup friendly on Friday. Overall, the preparation for the World Cup for Serbia has been emphatic.
Serbia 2022 World Cup Squad
Goalkeepers: Marko Dmitrovic (Sevilla), Pedrag Rajkovic (Mallorca), Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (Torino)
Defenders: Stefan Mitrovic (Getafe), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina), Strahinja Pavlovic (FC Salzburg), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Filip Mladenovic (Legia Warszawa), Strahinja Erakovic (Red Star Belgarde), Srdjan Babic (Almeria)
Midfielders: Nemanja Gudelj (Sevilla), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Sasa Lukic (Torino), Marko Grujic (FC Porto), Filip Kostic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Uros Racic (Braga, on loan from Valencia), Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe), Ivan Ilic (Hellas Verona), Andrija Zivkovic (PAOK), Darko Lazovic (Hellas Verona)
Forwards: Dusan Tadic (Ajax), Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham), Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus), Filip Djuricic (Sampdoria), Luka Jovic (Fiorentina), Nemanja Radonjic (Torino, on loan from Marseille)
Coach: Dragan Stojkovic
Serbia has one of the best attacks in the tournament spearheaded by Fulham’s in-form striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. He is joined by the talented Dusan Vlahovic, architect Dusan Tadic, midfield dynamo Sergej Milenkovic-Savic and potent crosser Filip Kostic. They play in the top leagues in Europe making this squad a refined one filled with a lot of quality. The trio of Mitrovic, Vlahovic and Tadic has combined for 28 goals for their clubs and has combined for 11 goals for their nation this year alone. That much quality in attack will surely help the team in the tournament.
The question is whether this squad will earn the same mentality as their quality against nations higher ranked in the tournament. Will They falter against Brazil or worse do not make it out of the group stages which is ought to be challenging? They have not made it into the knockouts as an independent nation and it is still pinching them. Sergej Milenkovic-Savic also has to provide for his nation on the big occasion and do a lot better than he did in the last edition. He is the main engine in the middle of the park and has to deliver to truly put this side on the verge of success.
Star Player: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Because of his late winner against Portugal in the final match of the qualifying, Serbia avoided the playoffs route to enter the 2022 World Cup automatically. Now in sensational scoring form with his club Fulham and also for his nation, Aleksandar Mitrovic is set to explode on the World Cup Stage. He is no more a sit-and-deliver striker waiting for the ball to arrive at his feet. Instead, he is a more mobile forward dropping in midfield or the wings, taking on the defense and has discovered a more prolific scoring instinct. Mitrovic has scored nine goals in just 12 matches in the Premier League and even broke the goal-scoring record in the Championship, the second-division league in England, last season with a staggering 43 strikes in 44 matches. He has six strikes in his last four matches alone for Serbia including a splendid hat-trick against Sweden in September. The 28-year-old is hitting his prime with some class and will increase his stock if he snicks in the golden boot race for the World Cup. However, putting his nation in the knockout stages for the first time will be his priority.
How will Serbia lineup at the World Cup?
Coach Dragan Stojkovic will set up Serbia in the usual 3-5-2 formation making more numbers in midfield and drawing the best out of the two creative wing-backs. Filip Kostic’s excellence is known from his days at Frankfurt and now in Juventus while Andrija Zivkovic has proven an equally excellent contributor from the right both for his club and country. Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milenkovic-Savic will bring creativity and goals from the middle of the park with Torino’s Sasa Lukic taking more of the ball-passing duties. The three center-backs Nikola Milenkovic, Stefan Mitrovic and Strahinja Pavlovic look as solid as ever while Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic is the dream front-two other nations would have liked to have.
Opponents & Fixtures
Brazil vs Serbia - 25 November 2022, Lusail Stadium (12:30 AM)
Cameroon vs Serbia - 28 November 2022, Al Janoub Stadium (3:30 PM)
Serbia vs Switzerland - 3 December 2022, Stadium 974 (12:30 AM)
Serbia have the toughest World Cup opener possible against record champions and one of the tournament’s favorites, Brazil on 25 November 2022. Taking a draw out of the Selecao will be a huge success and confidence booster ahead of facing Cameroon and another of the last edition candidate, Switzerland. Even if they don’t win the first group game, Serbia have to grab all the opportunities for the next two to secure the qualification to the knockouts they are desiring for.
Serbia are bringing their best squad to the 2022 World Cup so the expectation is likely high for the team. Moving into the knockouts has to be a priority for the squad otherwise this will be termed a failed attempt on the mega stage again. It is left to see where the pressure boils down to and whether the star players of the team could sustain it. Other nations are also arriving with top qualities and reacting to them on the same level will be key for them to progress in the contest.