With Italy failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, it is Serbia out of all teams at the tournament that has the greatest Serie A representation. Eagles coach Dragan Stojkovic has selected no fewer than 11 players from the Italian top flight with him in Qatar and more than a few of them are important players.
Serbia are in Group H with Brazil, Cameroon, and Switzerland, but the Eagles have become a potent attacking threat since Stojkovic was appointed coach in 2021, and they should not be underestimated at any cost. They’ll back themselves to get out of the group even after their opening loss to Brazil.
Proactive football under Stojkovic will unsettle opponents
The Serbians qualified for the World Cup after finishing above Portugal in Group A, and they in fact defeated the Portuguese 2-1 in Lisbon in the final qualifier, sending the Iberians to the play-offs.
Under the guidance of Stojkovic, Serbia will predominantly play in a 3-5-2 formation and occasionally with some variations. Although the formation in most instances would have more pragmatic connotations and can be interpreted by some as a back five, Stojkovic’s implementation of the system is certainly more cavalier than usual, despite criticism of his approach being overly defensive against the five-time world champions.
In addition to qualifying directly for Qatar 2022, the Eagles enter the tournament in good form, having earned promotion to Nations League A, and like in the World Cup qualifiers, they averaged over two goals per match.
Their key players are the Ajax playmaker Dusan Tadic and the prolific Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is Serbia’s all-time goalscorer with 50 goals and counting, but the Serie A-based players are more than capable of influencing matches in their own right.
Milinkovic-Savic leads line of stars from Serie A
Arguably the best of the Italian-based players is Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who has also become one of the best midfielders in Serie A since arriving from Belgian club Genk in 2015.
Milinkovic-Savic is the complete package as a midfielder: he wins the ball back for the team, has tidy ball control for such a tall player, and he knows how to get into a scoring position.
The Lazio midfielder will be playing alongside his brother and Torino goalkeeper Vanja. Operating as a sweeper-keeper for Serbia, the younger Milinkovic-Savic will probably be freer to play his natural game. He can play the ball out from the back with short passes or kick long to the forwards.
Vanja will also be playing alongside Granata teammates Sasa Lukic, who will probably play beside Sergej and Tadic in midfield and dictate play from deep, and Nemanja Radonjic, who is likely to be used off the bench and play in a more advanced role.
The Torino trio will also be joining the Juventus duo Dusan Vlahovic and Filip Kostic. Vlahovic is one of the most exciting young strikers in Europe while Kostic is one of the best assist providers in Europe, capable of providing outstanding ball delivery from the left flank.
Keeping things tight at the back will be Fiorentina defender Nikola Milinkovic, whose uncompromising style and no-nonsense mentality will make him an intimidating opponent to face.
Serie A provincials also represented in Serbian squad
As a footballer, Stojkovic spent the 1991/92 Serie A season at Hellas Verona on loan from Olympique Marseille, and he has turned to one of his former clubs for a couple of players; wing-back Darko Lazovic and central midfielder Ivan Ilic.
He also selected Sampdoria midfielder Filip Djuricic despite the Blucerchiati’s struggles in Serie A, and Stojkovic still has faith in the 30-year-old’s mercurial talents. He too is another play that can come off the bench to change the game or start in a 3-4-2-1 formation if the coach moves away from the 3-5-2.
How deep can Serbia go in the tournament?
If Serbia can give Brazil some headaches in their opening match or bounce back quickly from it depending on the outcome, the Eagles are capable of progressing to the Round of 16 ahead of Switzerland and Cameroon.
Although the second round would be a good achievement for the Serbians on paper, this is a team loaded with creativity as well as finishing touch. Under the tutelage of Stojkovic, the Eagles will not play with fear and will play with nothing to lose.
Serbia are capable of being the dark horses of the 2022 World Cup and their Serie A-based players can have a huge say in shaping that destiny.