You rarely find a national team with so much potential that has not yet achieved absolutely nothing at the world level. Although in this century it had Dejan Stankovic, Nemanja Vidic or Branislav Ivanovic, enormous players, the national team from Belgrade consistently disappointed when it reached any final tournament.
In the current state composition, Serbia reached two World Cups, in 2010 and 2018, exiting each time already from the group stage. And, to make the picture of disillusionment complete, the “Eagles” have not reached any final Euro tournament since they broke up with Montenegro. The apotheosis of disappointment: the tie for Euro 2020, when Serbia lost the qualification by 11 meters, at home, against the much lower rated Scotland
Mitrovic, the “Eagle’s” strike
When Mitrovic scored with his head, from the corner of the small square, in the goal of the Lusitanians, on November 14, 2021 and took Serbia directly to the World Cup, the feeling was that, finally, the “Eagles” confirmed that they are a great national team. It was the defining moment of a qualification cycle in which Dragan Stojkovic, the legend of the Red Star and one of the biggest names of the end of the last century, restored confidence and brought order to a disorganized line-up.
It seemed that the “Eagles” would not escape a post-war curse, at the world championship level. The last important achievement of the national team from Belgrade, considered the continuation of Yugoslavia, was the “quarter” final lost in 1990, on penalty kicks, against Brazil. Another wasted penalty ruined the chances of the “blues” in 1998, when the great Mijatovic missed from the penalty spot, in the last minutes, in the “eighth” that would end Holland-Yugoslavia 2-1.
A group more attractive than ever
A leitmotif before the final tournaments is related to the question “How would the national team of Yugoslavia look now if there was no war in the 90s?” Beyond the imagination, it is difficult to make an ideal 11, taking only the squads of Serbia and Croatia, because both sides have so many values that whatever you choose, you feel like you have done an injustice!
The main advantage of the “Eagles” is their attack. Mitrovic is only 28 years old and is the “ever” best scorer of the national team, with 50 goals scored in 76 games! At only 22 years old, Vlahovic has had eight successes in 16 appearances for the national team. And the influential Dusan Tadic, a true Ajax icon, and Juve’s Filip Kostic come from midfield to enliven an attack that anyone would want.
Brazilians against the “Brazilians of Europe”
The group in Qatar is a very challenging one, with Serbia debuting against Brazil. It is known that the Yugoslavs were nicknamed the “Brazilians of Europe” a long time ago, and the descendants of the “Plavas” can wear this appellation without any problems. After Cameroon, Serbia will close the group against Switzerland, a match that will have an extremely serious emotional component.
The “Eagles” lost in Russia 2018, also against Switzerland, in a group also with Brazil, in a game dominated by controversial decisions against Serbia. And the fact that there were and are players with Kosovar origins in the Swiss national team will increase the intensity of the match.
The Serbs have all the offensive arguments for qualification, but the feeling is that at the defensive level, the people on whom “Piksi” count do not have the quota and value of those in the middle zone and above.
Are they copying Croatia?
The success of its western rivals in 2018 has increased Serbia’s frustrations with global failures in recent years. Beyond the rivalry, the “Eagles” have something to be inspired by the Croatians, considering that they too evolve at a high level, and have reached a certain experience.
Stojkovic was questioned about how his students can achieve performance like Modric and company: “You have to play good football, be intelligent, well physically prepared and not have injuries”, explained “Piksi”. “Everything has to match! Croatia achieved great results, but let’s not forget that they managed to qualify twice on penalties. It could be the other way around. You have to have a cool head to be stronger than your opponent. And good luck!”
And yet, big worries…
Stojkovic mentioned luck, but before leaving for Qatar, this very factor seems to cause insomnia. Just Mitrovic and Vlahovic have rather worrying medical problems, so it would not be excluded that “Piksi” will have to make some changes. But, the Serbian selector does not disarm: “If necessary, Mitrovic will also walk on one leg!” This, to emphasize how important his scorer is, not only from a sporting point of view.
Is it time for the “Eagles” to really fly? “Piksi” is confident: “We are going modestly to Qatar, as we did last year in the decisive match against Portugal. I want to see the same behavior at the World Cup. We showed that Serbia knows how to play good football, regardless of the opponent”.
And if Serbia plays the same good football, it is possible that the performance of the neighbors in Zagreb will be put in jeopardy.