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Belgium are the favorites to win Group A. But Serbia might just have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Belgium and Serbia, along with Croatia, are even at four points at the top of Group A in UEFA World Cup qualifying. But despite the equality in accumulated points, Belgium are the clear favorites to win this match, if not the group. Take a look at the Belgians selected for this round -- just how many of those names are unfamiliar? They're being snapped up like beads at a Mardi Gras parade and, quite frankly, that amount of attacking talent is just not fair.
Yet Belgium's taking more of a slow-but-steady approach to this qualifying road, it seems. The intent is there, the precision in the attack is not. In the first match, Belgium needed James Collins to get sent off before they could truly penetrate the Wales' defense. When hosting Croatia, Axel Witsel, Christian Benteke and Kevin Mirallas all went near, but Belgium could only come away with a 1-1 draw.
Serbia experienced many of the same problems at Scotland, a side whose negative tactics seem designed to emerge from qualifying with nothing but a better UEFA coefficient. Against Wales, though, the Serbs let loose in a 6-1 home victory. For a side whose most infamous names appear in defense, that's rather impressive. Aside from the veteran defenders, Sinisa Mihajlovic is counting on his younger players, many of whose names you're unlikely to recognize -- unless you're an avid fan of all European leagues.
One of the changes between the Wales demolition and the Scotland draw was Serbia's shift to a 4-1-4-1, with young Partizan forward Lazar Marković leading the attack. The majority of the action came from wide play, however, which may cause Belgium some rightful worry. Right-back is their weakest link, and with Guillaume Gillet suspended, Ajax defender Toby Alderweireld will need to step in, a prospect that should delight CSKA Moscow winger Zoran Tošić.
Belgium are also missing Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku, both out with injury. Again, the plethora of attacking Belgians should theoretically make up for such a loss, but anyone who saw Christian Benteke miss a free header for Aston Villa against Tottenham Hotspur might be forgiven for doubting such a theory. But the Serbian defense isn't watertight, and it'd be foolish to place a bet on Belgium remaining scoreless.
Finally, Belgium may also end up intimidated by the atmosphere at the Marakana, which can be quite the simmering cauldron. But the home side could wind up feeling the wrath of their supporters if things don't go their way -- the risk of playing in Belgrade. In fact, Miha tried to convince the authorities to move this match to Novi Sad, where the Wales win occurred. Not much of a home-field advantage for Serbia, then.
Match Date/Time: Friday, October 12 at 8:30 p.m. local time, 2:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Marakana (Red Star Stadium), Belgrade, Serbia
TV: RTS 1, RTRS TV (Serbia), VT4, La Une (Belgium)
Online: ESPN3 (U.S.)