Serbia 2010 World Cup Preview: The White Eagles' First Solo Flight

To understand the emergence of the Serbian national team, first you must understand a bit of the history of the region. Serbia has been a member of FIFA since 1921, although in that same year it became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. For this reason, it is Serbia that assumed the results of the Yugoslav national team when the republic broke apart. The Serbia and Montenegro team existed from 2003-2006, when Montenegro formed a new state and, consequently, a new football nation. All this to let you know that even though the "Serbia National Football Team" only dates back to 2006, their history in fact began in 1919.

As Franklin Foer theorizes in How Soccer Explains the World, the nationalist fervor surrounding soccer actually helped push the Serbians into the Balkan War—and the White Eagles now are a proud symbol of Serbian independence. Coach Radomir Antić speaks about how his team’s style of play is determined by the "mentality of a nation", and promises to field a squad focused on attacking. With Antić hired just two weeks before the start of World Cup qualification, he had to work quickly to assemble a team befitting of his preferred style of play. Rather than looking solely to overseas leagues, he found Nenad Milijaš (who now plays for Wolves) and Zoran Tošić (who now plays for Manchester United). He brought back winger Miloš Krasić and convinced Neven Subotić to play for Serbia rather than the United States.

With their first appearance as an independent nation, Serbia are determined to overcome their poor showing in 2006. In Germany they played as Serbia and Montenegro, and fizzled out in the group stages. Antić is determined that his entertaining squad make Serbia proud, but it is essential that they keep up both their strength and their confidence. Although Serbia scored 22 goals and conceded just eight, they faltered when facing stronger opposition. The White Eagles easily pushed aside the Faroe Islands and Austria, and crushed Romania in Belgrade. But when playing against France, they found themselves rattled by the home side, scoring just once in an eventual loss. In the second leg, Serbia gained a one-man advantage when keeper Hugo Lloris pulled down Nikola Žigić, but despite that fortunate twist of fate could still only manage a 1-1 draw.

How They Got Here

The White Eagles finished first within their group, a fitting celebration of their first qualifying campaign as an independent nation. Serbia won seven, lost two and drew once, finishing one point ahead of France. They booked their way to South Africa with a 5-0 win against Romania.

How They've Fared Before

In 1998, Yugoslavia emerged from their group in second place, with Germany taking the first slot. This pitted the team against the Netherlands, and while Yugoslavia managed to hold a draw into extra time, the Dutch found the net in the last few minutes, knocking out the Yugoslavs in the Round of 16.

In 2002, the Republic of Yugoslavia was in serious political turmoil, and could only find a third place finish in the qualification rounds. By 2006 the republic had disintegrated, with Serbia and Montenegro stepping in to assume the mantle. Although the team had an undefeated run in their qualification group in 2006, they failed to emerge from the group stages of the World Cup. They left Germany with a 0-0-3 record.

Players to Watch

Dejan Stanković: The Serbian captain plays as an attacking midfielder for Inter Milan, but often fills a more defensive role for his country. Deki is a great link-up man, with plenty of creativity and a deadly shot from distance.

Miloš Krasić: The attacking midfielder has attracted quite a bit of attention over the past season, as he’s been in sharp form for CSKA Moscow. He’s certain to start for Serbia, having played all ten qualification matches, scoring twice and setting up many more. Krasić has strength and pace up both sides of the pitch, with an impressive ability to create plenty of space.

Nemanja Vidić: As any Aston Villa fan will tell you, Vidić is known as an aggressive defender—this Manchester United player created a controversy by dragging down Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box at the Carling Cup final, a move many considered worth of a sending-off. In fact, Vidić missed a match in the 2006 World Cup due to suspension from a red card. Although some consider him a dirty player, Vida is widely regarded as one of the best center-backs in the world, and will make a tough barrier in Serbia’s back line.

Branislav Ivanović: Vida’s partner in central defense is fellow Premier League player Ivanović, who found regular time at right back for Chelsea this season. As is a common theme among the Serbian players, Ivanović plays an attacking game, producing 3 goals during qualification play—quite impressive for a defender.

Zoran Tošić: This left-winger was determined to be noticed by Antić, using his loan spell at FC Köln as a stage and scoring five goals in fourteen appearances. His accurate crosses and ability to take on defenders allowed him to realize his dream of a place in Serbia’s World Cup squad.

How Far They Can Get

According to my 2010 bracket predictor, Serbia will improve upon their standings at the last World Cup and succeed in finding their way out of the group stages. However, it is likely that they’ll meet England in the second round. This will likely result in a physical, pressing match, but England’s stronger skills will prevail and Serbia will sputter out before the quarter-finals.

Schedule

Date Opponent Location
June 13 Ghana Pretoria
June 18 Germany Port Elizabeth
June 23 Nelspruit Australia

Provisional Roster

Goalkeepers
Player Age* Caps Goals Club (Country)
Duricic, Andelko 29 0 0 Uniao Leiria (Portugal)
Isailovic, Bojan 30 3 0 Zaglebie Lubin (Poland)
Stojkovic, Vladimir 26 30 0 Wigan Athletic (England)
Zeljko, Brkic 23 2 0 Vojvodina (Serbia)
Defenders
Player Age* Caps Goals Club (Country)
Ivanovic, Branislav 26 39 4 Chelsea (England)
Kolarov, Aleksandar 24 10 0 Lazio (Italy)
Lukovic, Aleksandar 27 19 0 Udinese (Italy)
Obradovic, Ivan 21 10 1 Real Zaragoza (Spain)
Rukavina, Antonio 26 29 0 1860 Munchen (Germany)
Subotic, Neven 21 10 1 Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Vidic, Nemanja 28 44 2 Manchester United (England)
Midfielders
Player Age* Caps Goals Club (Country)
Jovanovic, Milan 29 24 9 Liverpool (England)
Kacar, Gojko 23 15 0 Hertha BSC (Germany)
Krasic, Milos 25 29 2 CSKA Moscow (Russia)
Kuzmanovic, Kdravko 22 25 4 Stuttgart (Germany)
Milijas, Nenad 27 15 3 Wolverhampton Wanderers (England)
Ninkovic, Milos 25 7 0 Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine)
Petrovic, Radosav 21 6 0 Partizan (Serbia)
Stankovic, Dejan 21 86 13 Internazionale (Italy)
Tosic, Zoran 23 18 4 Manchester United (England)
Forwards
Player Age* Caps Goals Club (Country)
Lazovic, Danko 27 34 10 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)
Mrda, Dragan 26 3 2 Vojvodina (Serbia)
Pantelic, Marko 31 29 5 Ajax (Netherlands)
Zigic, Nikola 29 42 16 Valencia (Spain)

* - age as of June 11, 2010

Kirsten Schelwitz's excellent Villan coverage at 7500 to Holte, SB Nation's Aston Villa blog, gives her little chance to delving into the significance of the nation-state in international football.  Thankfully, she will be contributing to SBNation's soccer pages throughout this year's World Cup.

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