Serbia topped their group to qualify, but the Serbian FA still sacked the head coach, Slavoljub Muslin.
Serbia World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide
Having failed to qualify for the last three major tournaments, Serbia made it to the 2018 World Cup –against all the odds – as group winners. However, it was a mixed campaign, at the end of which the Serbian FA sacked coach Slavoljub Muslin, whose 3-4-3 system was regarded as being too defensive – even though Serbia scored 20 goals.
Related: World Cup TV Schedule
Key Moments in Qualifying
Having allowed Austria to twice come from behind in Belgrade, Dusan Tadic scores the winner in a 3-2 victory.
Aleksandar Mitrovic equalises in the 86th minute in Wales before Gareth Bale hits a post for the hosts in a 1-1 draw.
Despite playing for more than 25 minutes with 10 men when centre-back Nikola Maksimovic was sent off, Serbia hold on for a 1-0 win away to Republic of Ireland.
Although they lose 3-2 in Austria, Aleksandar Prijovic’s goal against Georgia three days later secures a ticket to Russia.
Serbia World Cup Group
Serbia World Cup Friendlies
Related: World Cup Friendlies
Serbia World Cup Fixtures
Related: World Cup Fixtures
Mladen Krstajic, age 43 (04.03.74)
Appointed caretaker following Slavoljub Muslin’s dismissal, the former centre-back has no experience as a head coach. However, with the Serbian FA’s first-choice replacement Dragan Stojkovic out of bounds due to his lucrative long-term contract with Chinese side Guangzhou R&F, he might just get the job full time.
Although his form dropped in the second part of the campaign, Dusan Tadic made a big contribution. Aleksandar Mitrovic is only a reserve at his club side Newcastle, but in the World Cup qualifiers he scored six times, including two crucial equalisers in the two draws with Wales.
The ability of goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic was vital in qualifying, while skipper Branislav Ivanovic showed true leadership despite some ups and downs in his performances. Nemanja Matic is the central figure in midfield.
Muslin constantly ignored midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, claiming he didn’t fit into a 3-4-3 system.
A member of the teams that won the 2013 Euro Under-19 and 2015 World Under-20 titles, midfielder Mijat Gacinovic scored on his senior debut in the 3-1 win away to Georgia.
Related: World Cup Stadiums
Serbia World Cup Squad
Preliminary World Cup Squad –
Goalkeepers – Marko Dmitrovic, Predrag Rajkovic, Vladimir Stojkovic
Defenders – Dusan Basta, Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nikola Maksimovic, Matija Nastasic, Ivan Obradovic, Antoinio Rukavina, Dusko Tosic, Milos Veljkovic
Forwards – Aleksandr Mitrovic, Aleksandr Prijovic
Serbia World Cup Injuries
We will update you with injuries here.
The Unanswered Questions
Who will score the goals if Aleksandar Mitrovic is injured, suspended or out of shape?
If he stays with Newcastle, where he is consigned to the bench, it’s a question of whether the centre-forward will be ready for Russia. Aleksandar Prijovic scored the winning goal against Georgia but he is still a newcomer in this team, while Andrija Pavlovic would probably be punching above his weight.
Can the defence become more solid?
Ignoring the games against an inferior Moldova side, Serbia conceded 10 goals in eight games – almost all of which came after defensive errors.
Is there a plan B?
Far too often Serbia seem over reliant on Dusan Tadic and they can look clueless when opponents manage to shackle him. Caretaker coach Mladen Krstajic has given creative players Adem Ljajic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic their chance and their inclusion could resolve this problem.
Can Serbia overcome the mental blocks of their teams in the past?
The fear is that the big stage will prove too much for Serbia once again next summer. If they want to enjoy a good World Cup they must avoid freezing when it matters most.
Don’t forget to follow World Soccer on Facebook, and Twitter.