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DARK HORSES

Serbia boast a squad full of experience with a trick up their sleeve in Europe’s most exciting young talent

The Eagles were beaten just once in qualifying and will back themselves to make headlines in Russia

Oh check you out, backing Germany, Brazil or Spain to win the World Cup.

How original.

In the build-up to the World Cup we’re going to be taking a look at the dark horses.

And once we’re done at the stables, we’re going to write articles about the teams with an outside chance of Doing a Madness™ in Russia.


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Next up, it’s Serbia.

You wouldn’t mess with any of this lot in a dark alleyway

Getty Images - Getty
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You wouldn’t mess with any of this lot in a dark alleyway

One of the squads with the most experience at the World Cup, Serbia aren’t short of leaders in their formidable looking lineup.

Mladen Krstajic has been in charge of the side since last year, but it was former manager Slavoljub Muslin who guided the Eagles through qualifying, losing only once.

World Cup qualification was a feat that Serbia failed to achieve in 2014, their disappointment meaning they were forced to watch the last tournament from the sofa.

Looks like he works the doors at your local Spoons on a Saturday night

AFP or licensors
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Looks like he works the doors at your local Spoons on a Saturday night

How will they lineup and are they worth watching?

Serbia played in a 4-2-3-1 formation in their most recent friendly, an emphatic 5-1 win over Bolivia.

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Who should we be looking out for and are there any familiar faces?

Partizan’s Vladimir Stojkovic is the veteran stopper between the sticks and is taking part in his third major tournament for Serbia.

English football fans (might) recognise him from a brief loan spell with Wigan in 2010 and one season at Nottingham Forest in 2016, where he made 21 appearances at the City ground.

Don’t think he really needs that hairband

EPA
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Don’t think he really needs that hairband

An experienced defence, which includes former Chelsea stalwart Branislav Ivanovic, forms the foundations of the Serbian side.

Ex-Man City man Aleksandar Kolarov also features in the ageing back four.

The 32-year-old has 76 caps to his name and will be a constant threat from set pieces.

BANG!

Reuters
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BANG!

Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic (try saying that after a few) will form a solid looking partnership in the centre, with both players coming into the tournament off the back of good seasons.

The pair have 68 caps between them and will do the ‘dirty work’ that allows the more creative players in the side to flourish.

Matic will make his World Cup bow in Russia having previously been starved of the opportunity to impress on the world’s biggest stage.

Short sleeves and gloves?! DO NOT show this to Yer Da

Getty - Contributor
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Short sleeves and gloves?! DO NOT show this to Yer Da

Southampton’s Dusan Tadic and Torino’s Adem Ljajic will provide the creativity from out wide.

Ljajic has often struggled with consistency but had an impressive last season in Serie A, scoring six goals and contributing ten assists in 27 appearances.

Tadic had an indifferent campaign for the Saints as they narrowly avoided the drop, however there is no doubting his quality and a change of scenery could be the key to unlocking his potential.

That one mate who starts doing weird s**t after they’ve had a drink

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That one mate who starts doing weird s**t after they’ve had a drink

Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will operate in the No10 role and provide the support for the lone-striker Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Milinkovic-Savic is widely tipped to be one of the star-men in Russia and could well find himself at the centre of a transfer tug-of-war should he impress this summer.

“DI CANIOOOO!”

AFP or licensors
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“DI CANIOOOO!”

Who should we be looking out for and are there any familiar faces?

There’s talent everywhere you look in the Serbian side, with bulldozer striker Mitrovic a player in red-hot form.

The Newcastle man failed to make any sort of impact at St James’ Park and his future looked certain to be away from English football.

Fulham took a gamble when they signed the enigmatic striker on a short-term loan in January.

The move turned out to a revelation for all involved and brought the best out of Mitrovic, who proved to be the difference in the Cottagers successful quest for promotion.

Winner winner, chicken dinner

Getty - Contributor
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Winner winner, chicken dinner

The 23-year-old, who has scored 16 goals in his 37 caps, will need to hit the ground running, as Serbia lack any adequate replacements should Mitrovic start firing blanks.

If Mitrovic keeps his temperament under control, then the bruising striker could play a major part in Serbia causing some shocks in Russia.

He’s already got history against English defenders

Reuters
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He’s already got history against English defenders

Milinkovic-Savic could well become ‘the new James Rodriguez’ and replicate the impact that the Colombian had at the 2014 World Cup.

Likely to be deployed as a No10 behind Mitrovic, the Lazio man is also just as effective in a deeper midfielder role.

The powerhouse midfielder scored 14 goals in Serie A last season and is on the radar of several of Europe’s top clubs.

We could well be seeing Milinkovic-Savic in the Premier League soon, with rumours heavily linking him with a transfer to Man United.

Jose Mourinho would ruin him as a player

EPA
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Jose Mourinho would ruin him as a player

Matic and Kolarov are the seasoned pros who will keep the side pulling in the same direction.

The pair have over 100 caps between them and will provide invaluable experience to the squad.

At 32-years-old, Kolarov is likely to be making his World Cup swansong in Russia and will want to go out in style.

Two absolute dons, far too cool to wear those bibs

Reuters
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Two absolute dons, far too cool to wear those bibs

The Premier league contingent continues with Tadic and Milivojevic also set to feature.

Former Chelsea man Ivanovic will start for the Eagles in central defence, and what he lacks in pace, he more than makes up for in experience.

The 34-year-old has notched up over 100 caps and will be one of the the most experienced players at the tournament and a constant threat from corners.

He can still jump bloody high

Getty Images - Getty
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He can still jump bloody high

What is their recent tournament history and how did they qualify for Russia?

Serbia’s recent tournament history reflects rather unfavourably on the side.

They haven’t made an impact at a major tournament since they reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2000 in Belgium and Holland.

Back then they were known as FR Yugoslavia, which proves just how bloody long ago it was…

A young Damien Duff tries to get past Slavisa Jokanovic in 2000… I bet you didn’t think you would see that today

AP:Associated Press
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A young Damien Duff tries to get past Slavisa Jokanovic in 2000… I bet you didn’t think you would see that today

World Cup

2002: Failed to qualify.

2006/2010: Group stages.

2014: Failed to qualify.

Euros

2000: Quarter-finals.

2004/2008/2012/2016: Failed to qualify.

Nemanja Vidic decided to retire from international duty after Serbia’s group stage exit at the 2010 World Cup

Action Images - Reuters
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Nemanja Vidic decided to retire from international duty after Serbia’s group stage exit at the 2010 World Cup

Serbia’s performances during qualification will have given fans some much needed reasons to be cheerful going into the tournament.

Krstajic’s side won six, drew three and lost just once in their tricky looking qualifying group, which included Austria and Wales.

Despite conceding an alarming ten goals, Serbia did score an impressive 20 during qualification, indicating that their strengths predominately come in the attacking areas.


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Is 2018 suited to them?

Serbia, ranked 34th in the World, have been given little hope to get out of their group, let alone cause some shocks later in the tournament.

The Eagles have been drawn alongside favourites Brazil in Group E, with big performances against the group’s other sides, Switzerland and Costa Rica, going to be crucial if they have hopes of reaching the knockout stage.

*Rocky music plays*

Reuters
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*Rocky music plays*

If Serbia finish runners up to Brazil, then Joachim Low’s star-studded Germany side are the likely opponents for Mitrovic and co in the round of 16.

A shock win against Die Mannschaft will give Krstajic’s side the confidence that they can go all the way in Russia.


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Any other reasons to be optimistic?

Despite their woeful recent history in major tournaments, the talent in this latest Serbian side is surely too good to continue to disappoint.

Krstaljic seems to have the perfect blend of youth and experience at his disposal, with Milinkovic-Savic someone who could prove to be the difference in tight games.

The expectations of the nation are likely to fall on the shoulders of Mitrovic as the only real option upfront.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

Getty Images - Getty
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Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

The Newcastle man scored a hat-trick in Serbia’s friendly against Bolivia and if he stays injury-free, the Eagles could well be the surprise package this summer.

Are they worth a punt?

You can back Serbia to cause one of the biggest shocks in World Cup history at an eyebrow raising 150/1 with SunBets.

Stranger things have happened in football.

“Mitro’s on fire!”


Visit the rest of the stables


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