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The Anatomy of an Underdog: Serbia at the World Cup 2010

June 1, 2010

Which country at the World Cup can say that it has at its helm one of only two people to manage both Real Madrid and Barcelona?  Someone who also played for the ever fashionable Luton Town in the 80s, this bloke really knows how to travel doesn’t he?

The country is Serbia, the man is Radomir Antić, and under his leadership Serbia have assembled an underrated team which, according to Antić has “fantastic team spirit”.  The authors of Soccernomics, using a formula that would cause even the most statistically minded football fans a headache, predict that Serbia will make it to the final, but will subsequently lose to Brazil.

These predictions may not endear the authors to your stereotypical English “Eleven against Eleven, anything can happen” commentator.  They use logarithms based on a formula combining population, GDP per capita and experience to predict the result of games and I wouldn’t attempt to explain it to the car flag flying, England shirt wearing hoards who seem to have no tactical awareness beyond ‘get in their faces’.

Indeed, the Serbia squad are very capable of causing an upset. The blend is well balanced and exciting; a strong defence in Vidić, Ivanović, Subotić and Kolarov (a Mourinho target no less) and a dogged, but talented midfield with strength in the centre and creative wide men.

In particular Miloš Krasić, a player reminiscent of Pavel Nedvěd, in playing style, aspiration and his flowing golden locks, offers great pace and a fantastic delivery into the forward line, as witnessed during Serbia’s 6-1 win over Bulgaria with his hat-trick of assists. I just hope he takes his mother’s old oversized pudding bowl with him wherever he goes after this World Cup. He reminds me of the rough kid you played against once; who you suspect had a rather harsher upbringing.

Krasić’s strengths are complimented by Serbia’s options in attack. Antic prefers to play two strikers; Marko Pantelić, and Nikola Žigić, an absolute obelisk with the ability to score both in, and outside the box. Nikola made his name for Red Star scoring 47 in 79 games, and his potential was reflected in a transfer to Valencia for €20 million, although his stock has fallen recently moving to Birmingham City for just £6 million, he still possesses formidable talent.

The team is strong, direct and look to exploit space behind the opposition’s defence, as well as offering a great threat from set-pieces. A classic example is the goals scored in the 5-0 and 3-2 games against Romania in qualifying, where every goal was produced through Krasić’s invention or from a set piece delivery.

In both games, they played in their preferred 4-4-2 formation which relies on a strong midfield to distribute the ball quickly to Jovanović or Krasić. Jovanović offers a different threat, looking to move into channels between the right-back and centre-back. He uses his pace to attempt to break through the defence and either have a shot or pull the ball back.

Krasić often moves inside to help with defending and then proceeds to isolate the full-back and run behind him with a quick one-two and burst of pace into the space on the flank which he has created.

Without the ball, Serbia operate very narrow, with Krasić (marked in red) often helping out the central midfield (Milijaš marked yellow). From here he then attempts to exploit the space made from his movement inside, where the Romanians have followed his movement. This worked exceptionally well in both the home and away fixtures against Romania.

Up front it is clear that Žigić (blue line) drops deeper to help defensively whilst Pantelić looks for direct ball from the midfield to either run on to, or to hold up for the deep-lying Žigić who as the cliché goes, has a good touch for a big man. Žigić often then plays it to the onrushing Jovanović (brown) or Krasić (red), as they move into space.

Serbia have a well-organised team with a formidable defence and four pivotal players in attack. They are more than capable of scoring goals, only three teams; Spain, England and Germany scored more in qualification.  They should progress past the group stages even though they have quite a tough group with Ghana, Australia and Germany. I am quite tempted to agree with the Soccernomics prediction, though they are rank outsiders.

Serbia Squad List

Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojković (Wigan), Željko Brkić (Vojvodina), Bojan Isailović (Zaglebie), Anđelko Đuričić (Leiria)

Defenders: Branislav Ivanović (Chelsea), Antonio Rukavina (Munchen 1860), Nemanja Vidić (Manchester United), Neven Subotić (Borusssia Dortmund), Aleksandar Luković (Udinese), Ivan Obradović (Zaragoza), Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio)

Midfielders: Dejan Stanković (Inter), Gojko Kačar (Hertha Berlin), Nenad Milijaš (Wolverhampton), Zdravko Kuzmanović (Stuttgart), Radosav Petrović (Partizan), Miloš Krasić (CSKA Moscow), Zoran Tošić (Köln), Miloš Ninković (Dinamo Kyiv), Milan Jovanović (Standard Liege)

Attackers: Nikola Žigić (Valencia), Marko Pantelić (Ajax), Danko Lazović (Zenit), Dragan Mrđa (Vojvodina)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Vampy Archer permalink
    November 28, 2010 5:07 am

    Actually, Tim… you and those soccernomics blokes are not the only ones who were literally “punked” by Serbia. I actually wrote an article myself on Serbia just before the World Cup… here:

    Like you said that all your predictions went misguided…, I too, made myself a laughing stock with that article. I am, actually, looking bonkers with the comments over there if we all look at that at the moment.

    Personally, I feel that Reddy didn’t make the team around Danko Lazović. In fact, he was used as sub in very drastic situations. Only if the team played around Lazović then who knows? Well, let bygones be bygones. Still, liked the post.


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