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Serbia World Cup team aims to make a name for itself

Serbia is setting out to establish itself as a powerhouse team at its first Cup as an independent soccer entity.

Serbia and Montenegro fans smile before their team's World Cup 2006 soccer match against the Netherlands in Leipzig, Germany on June 11, 2006. (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

Serbia World Cup Team Statistics: Group D

World Ranking: 15

World Cup 2010 Results: 1-1-0

Total goals scored: 1

Total goals scored against: 1

Serbia World Cup Schedule: June 13 - Ghana (0-1 loss); June 18 - Germany (1-0 win); June 23 - Australia.

Serbia World Cup Soccer 2010

The break-up of Yugoslavia scattered its extraordinary talent among five national teams (as well as Kosovo, which is not recognized by FIFA) and Serbia is anxious to establish itself as an international soccer power in its own right.

For Serbs, many who still rankle at their reputation as the worst aggressors and criminals in the brutal Yugoslavian civil war, it is also an opportunity to show off their national pride in a more favorable light.

Read all of GlobalPost's World Cup 2010 coverage

Both those goals, however, present considerable challenges. Serbia is home to some legendary club teams — Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade — but they have not bounced back since Serbian players fled the country to compete on safer turf. As a result, the elite players don’t compete at home and are not as familiar with each other as those on the best Yugoslavian teams once were.

Moreover, in Serbian soccer there is a thin line between national pride and an ugly reservoir of ultra-nationalism. Soccer hooliganism still plagues the country; last year Partizan supporters attacked French fans in a bar and beat one man to death.

Serbia World Cup History: Officially, this is Serbia’s first World Cup, though Serbians were mainstays on some great Yugoslavian teams and it qualified as Serbia and Montenegro in 2006. When that alliance announced its divorce, effective after the 2006 World Cup, the unsettled soccer team proved to be collateral damage, losing all three of its games.

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Serbia World Cup Conventional Wisdom: Serbia impressed by winning a tough qualifying group that included France and Romania. Then again, it impressed in qualifying four years ago, but stumbled over politics and a tough draw. Serbia should be spared the divisive politics this time around, but its draw is once again very challenging.

Serbia World Cup Team Coach: Radomir Antic

Antic, 61, is one of the most experienced Cup coaches, having worked in Spain’s upper echelons — including at both Real Madrid and Barcelona — for almost two decades. He returned home to take over Serbia after its disappointing failure to reach Euro 2008. He is given much of the credit for its impressive performance en route to South Africa, instilling discipline and fortitude in a talented unit.

Serbia World Cup Team Strength: Serbia plays a defensive alignment and is very difficult to penetrate. The back line has size, experience, toughness and discipline.

Serbia World Cup Team Weakness: Serbia suffers from the most common malady of World Cup teams; a difficulty finding goals. And it lacks a standout keeper to bail it out after rare defensive miscues.

Serbia World Cup Key Player(s): Nemanja Vidic and Branislav Ivanovic

A team that is totally committed to defense first needs a back-line anchor. So imagine the comfort in having two such players — Manchester United’s Vidic and Chelsea’s Ivanovic — who, at 28 and 26 respectively, are in their prime. Both boast size (they play bigger than their 6’2”), savvy and plenty of toughness. And both have spent the past year, in both Premier League and Champions League competitions, butting heads with the top forwards in the world, and fully grasp their roles.

 


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