Fifa ranking: 21
Best result: Fourth place (1930, 1962)
Serbia promise to be exciting to watch. After failing to qualify for Euro 2020, the team coached by Dragan Stojkovic will now be hoping to prove its quality to the rest of the world.
Progression in Qatar will not be easy, as group G also features Brazil, Switzerland and Cameroon. Stojkovic’s side will have to replicate – and perhaps better – its impressive performances leading up to the World Cup.
Serbia’s qualifying journey ended on a memorable night in Portugal. Thanks to a 90th-minute winner from Aleksandar Mitrovic, they secured first place in their group and forced Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal into the play-offs.
They are intent on creating an upset, with their coach recently telling Italian newspaper Tuttosport that Serbia aim to “become the loose cannon of the World Cup”.
Stojkovic took up the reins from Ljubisa Tumbakovic, who was sacked in February last year. Since then, the former Red Star and Olympique Marseille midfielder has wasted no time in rebuilding the team and securing World Cup qualification in the space of just nine months.
The foundation of Stojkovic’s side is the three-man defence of Nikola Milenkovic, Miloš Veljokovic and Strahinja Pavlovic.
He usually employs a four-man midfield with two attacking wide players, Kostic on the left and Andrija Živkovic on the right, who play high and hug the touchline.
The two starting central defensive midfielders in Qatar are likely to be Saša Lukic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Tadic is the team’s stylish number 10 and the chief provider for the lethal attacking duo of Vlahovic and Mitrovic.
A more defensive alternative sees Serbia line up in a 3-4-2-1 formation, with only one striker but an extra man in midfield alongside Lukic, with Milinkovic-Savic in a more advanced role alongside Tadic.
Although he has little experience of coaching in major tournaments, Stojkovic brings a wealth of knowledge from his playing days. His footballing philosophy, as he explained in a press conference at the end of September, reflects the player he was: “I’m a coach who likes the team to play attractive, inventive football.”
Position: Central midfielder
Milinkovic-Savic, a versatile and powerful midfielder equipped with good feet and tactical intelligence, is one of the first names on Stojkovic’s team sheet.
He is an all-rounder who combines raw strength with disarming class, a centre-forward’s physique (at 1.91m tall) and the ball control of a number 10.
Milinkovic-Savic can break down attacks, can create chances, is tactically astute and has an eye for goal. In short, it is difficult to pick holes in his game and he will be one of Stojkovic’s go-to players.
He has since established himself as one of the best midfielders in Italy’s Serie A and is courted by leading European clubs, having registered 11 goals and 12 assists for Lazio last season.
In the run-up to Russia 2018, Milinkovic-Savic brushed off comparisons with Zinedine Zidane, one of the World Cup’s greatest playmakers, telling Fifa: “I’m flattered, but I see myself as more of a Yaya Touré.” – Fifa.com