‘A nation holds its breath…’
As Ireland countdown to their massive World Cup qualifier with Serbia this evening, The Opel Jersey sat down with Serbian journalist, Milas Dusanovic (@SerbianFooty), to discuss the dangers that the opposition could present for Martin O’Neill’s men.
TOJ: There has been a lot of media coverage over the off-the-pitch issues Serbia faced in the Euro 2016 campaign. What is the relationship between the public and the National Team like?
SF: The public has lost faith in the national team after 3 consecutive failed qualifying campaigns. Interest is very low and people don’t really care about the national team. They have to earn back the people’s trust.
TOJ: Is there a pressure on the team now having such a poor Euro 2016 qualification?
SF: Serbs are very passionate about football. There is always a lot pressure on the football team because Serbia does very well in team sports internationally (basketball, volleyball, water polo etc) the only team that doesn’t get results is the football team so there is a lot of pressure on them to finally get it going. Serbia has a lot of talent but has been underachieving for years so fans are not happy.
TOJ: How are the Serbian XI likely to line out from a tactical and strategy point of view?
SF: Under new manager Slavoljub Muslin, Serbia have been playing a 3-4-2-1 formation with 3 CBs and 2 wingbacks. I expect us to attack Ireland and put a lot of pressure on your fullbacks. The line-up will probably be :
Ivanovic, Nastasic, Rajkovic,
Rukavina, Maksimovic, Fejsa, Mladenovic,
TOJ: How do you rate the well travelled and experienced Slavoljub Muslin, and how would you describe his management style?
SF: He has a lot of experience which I like but he hasn’t exactly had a lot of success in staying at clubs long term, which is concerning. He has a reputation for playing an organised, defensive style and grinding out results. He is also an authoritarian which Serbia needs since a few of our players have had attitude and discipline issues in recent years. Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about him.
TOJ: Who are the players that the Irish public might not know but should be aware of?
SF: Winger Filip Kostic of Hamburger SV is a very quick and skilled player who will create a lot of problems for Ireland on the counter and with his crosses. FC Copenhagen’s Andrija Pavlovic is a mobile striker who’s good in the air and can be a handful in the box.
TOJ: With such a youthful squad, will the absence of Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Kolorov damage the balance of the Serbia team?
SF: Definitely. Matic and Kolarov are the leaders of the team along with Ivanovic. Matic leaves a huge hole in midfield that will be very difficult to fill, while Kolarov is always a threat to score when playing for Serbia, his danger will be hard to replace. The absence of Matic is massive, he is regularly Serbia’s best player and the midfield needs him there to function properly.
TOJ: Does this Serbia team have weaknesses? And if so what do you think they are?
SF: Well, Serbia has a new manager so he’s only had a couple of friendly games to implement his system and get to know the players. The defence has not played many games together and they are still learning the system so Ireland can exploit that. Serbia also struggles to score, we create a lot of chances but the finishing often lets us down.
TOJ: We have heard so much about the great success Serbia have had by winning the U-20 World Cup. Who are the emerging talents that could make a mark on this qualification campaign?
SF: Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica) and Nemanja Maksimovic (Astana) are all going to be key players for top European clubs for many years to come in my opinion. They still lack some experience but I expect them to be regular contributors to the national team before the end of these qualifiers.
TOJ: What do you think the Serbian public’s perception of the Irish team is?
SF: Everyone in Serbia respects the Irish and admires how they play with so much heart, passion and effort for their nation. We all expect a hard fought match.
TOJ: Finally, how do you expect the game to finish, and also the final group standings?
SF: I expect this game to end in a scoreless draw. This group is wide open, there isn’t one dominant team or one team that has a lot more talent than the others. It will come down to the wire for the top 2 spots.