A confident Serbia will head to Qatar boasting a rich vein of form and a free-scoring Aleksandar Mitrovic up front.
Previous World Cup appearances: 2
Best finish: Group stage (2010, 2018)
World Cup record: W2 D0 L4
Biggest win: 1-0 v Germany (2010)
Player to watch: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Fixtures: Brazil (November 24), Cameroon (November 28), Switzerland (December 2)
Serbia will be making its third appearance at the World Cup as an independent nation after debuting at South Africa 2010.
Serbia also played in Russia 2018, where they beat Costa Rica in their opening match, but failed to qualify for the knockouts after losing the next two group matches against Switzerland and Brazil.
They will open their 2022 campaign against their last World Cup opponents, and perennial tournament favourites, Brazil, on November 24. Brazil’s tournament pedigree will not dampen the spirits of this well-knit Serbian side, who have a strong attacking force and have had a successful run in the lead-up to the tournament.
Serbia finished their World Cup qualifying campaign by beating Portugal away and topping their group. Captain Dusan Tadic credited coach Dragan Stojkovic with helping the team to elevate their performance during the qualification phase.
“The experience of playing at a World Cup is vital,” Tadic told Fifa.com. “Stojkovic has played at several World Cups, scored goals and provided assists and knows everything there is to know. He passes all this knowledge and experience on to us, and we love working with him.”
The Serbian “legend” transformed the team’s attack, bringing the desired results. Serbia played six UEFA Nations League matches this year and won four of them.
Aleksandar Mitrovic has been in superb form for his country. He top-scored in their World Cup qualifying group, ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, with eight goals, and scored another six in the Nations League.
The 28-year-old forward is brimming with confidence ahead of the tournament.
“We have a tough group with strong teams and excellent players, but that’s why we play the game,” he said. “We want to be there and compete with the best – we can’t wait. I’m very confident, but I think the whole team and the whole country feel the same.”
While Serbia have become a force to be reckoned with in attack, their problems in defence have been exposed. The retirement of Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov may have helped on the flanks, but it has shorn them of experience at the back.
However, Stojkovic and his men will rely on the close bonds and recent experience of defeating big names to bring them success in Qatar. It also helps that most of the squad members were part of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup winning squad from 2015.
Tadic believes that the experience of winning on a big stage will help his side.
“Most of the players in the current Serbia team belong to that generation [Under-20 team], and I think that’s going to be a big plus for us,” he said.
If Serbia do not manage to reach the round-of-16, it will be seen as a disappointing result for a team that has had so much recent success. Mitrovic will have a big role to play in ensuring Serbia’s qualification, and he’s aware of the responsibility.
“You’re under a lot of pressure when you’re a striker,” he admitted. “I like to score and to feel the pressure on my shoulders. I know what everyone expects from me.”
The team, he said, is well prepared to meet the fans’ expectations.
“The best is yet to come. We’re in our prime.”