Underage world champions and top of their World Cup group, Serbian football is on a high right now. Provided they don’t make a familiar mistake and slip up against Moldova, they will roll into Dublin expecting a fight to the finish, writes Milos Dusanovic.
The campaign has gone really well for Serbia so far considering how low the expectations were ahead of the qualifiers. After three straight failed attempts, most fans had gotten tired of the embarrassment and did not expect anything to change with a new manager. To most people’s surprise, coach Slavoljub Muslin has implemented a system that works and the players have bought into it. He’s also added some much-needed authority and organisation and as a result the fans are slowly starting to believe again.
Hard to judge Irish play
Most people in Serbia are expecting a draw against Ireland. Everyone is overlooking the Moldova match and all focus is shifted to Dublin. This is very dangerous because in previous cycles we have failed to qualify as we’ve dropped points to teams with the quality of the Moldovans. The match in Dublin is huge no doubt and will probably decide the first two spots but the players need to take the game versus Moldova seriously or we are headed for another shameful result against a “minnow*.
The first match with Ireland was very frustrating, Andrija Pavlovic missed a wide-open goal that would have made it 3-1 and the Irish equalised shortly after. That’s the thing with Ireland, no lead is ever safe and they will keep coming until the final whistle blows. It’s hard to judge the play of Ireland because on the surface it doesn’t seem like they’re playing well but in reality, the match is usually in their favour. Ireland don’t fashion many chances but they usually take advantage of the ones they do create. The team is also organised and hard to break down. The Republic are one of the toughest teams to play against because they fool you into thinking that you have the upper hand and punish you when you least expect it. They grind out results and are in a good position to qualify because of that. Embed from Getty Images
Ireland are deadly at set-pieces
Ireland have some very good players no doubt but Serbia’s biggest weakness is defending set-pieces and the Irish are deadly at them. These are a bigger threat to us than any one player. If we can’t control those situations it’s going to be a very long night in Dublin.
The two main players for Serbia in this campaign have been Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Tadic is our main creative force and has scored or assisted almost every one of our goals in this campaign. Mitrovic has scored five goals in this and his development as a player has made us a much more dangerous team. The one to watch in Dublin is Adem Ljajic, the Serie A standout makes his return to the national team after a year absence. Ljajic is a skilled offensive player who can make something happen at any moment. He scored 10 goals in Seria A last season while adding 9 assists. His return to the national team is a huge boost to our chances.
Serbian football on the rise
Serbian football is on the rise after some tough years. Our U20 national team won the World Cup two years ago, we have two clubs that have qualified for the Europa league this season and the national team is on top of the qualifying group. However, the situation is still far from ideal. Serbia is a poor country and the facilities are in bad shape or out of date. There is very little funding and young players have to develop in difficult environments. There aren’t really signs of things changing for the better any time soon but all we can do is hope.
I am confident that Serbia will finish top two. We have two favourable home games left plus an away game in Austria where the stadium will be filled with mostly Serbs due to the large amount that live in there. I hope that we can grab direct qualification but it’s going to be a very hard fight against the Irish.
Milos Dusanovic has been a religious follower of Serbian football for as long as he can remember. Follow him on Twitter: @SerbianFooty