Here is the extended World Cup Preview I wrote for "The Guardian" newspaper. This is the full version I wrote for the questions they asked me. They then edited down my answers, so I have decided to publish my full World Cup preview for Serbia:
- Your overall view. How well will your team do? What are your big strengths? What are you looking forward to most from the tournament?
Serbia, known as the Beli Orlovi (White Eagles), have undergone something of a renaissance since Radomir Antić took over in 2008. The team started to play a passing game that once was a modus operandi of Serbian (Yugoslav) teams, but was ‘forgotten’ in more recent campaigns. The main area in which the team has improved, and which led to the successful World Cup qualifying campaign, has been the spirit and togetherness of the team. Many put this down to the fact that this is Serbia ’s first WC as an independent nation. First time Serbian Anthem was played in front of a packed ‘Marakana’ (the Belgrade one) Stadium (it does a lot for player morale to hear ones anthem played for the first time in 100+ years). Lots of firsts but also a one constant, as with previous campaigns under different names, unrealistic expectations from both the media and public are putting enormous pressure on the players and some of them are starting to believe it, especially the younger ones.
I feel the Serbian team can reach the 2nd round of the World Cup. If we do manage to get out our group, the majority of Serbs will consider this a success after so many painful failures. For others, anything other than winning the thing will be a failure.
The Serbian team’s strength is, no doubt, it’s defence. It lays a solid foundation for the rest of the team. Simply put, when Vidic and Ivanovic are on form so is Serbia. The attack and midfield manage to click when the back door stays shut. There is also a feeling that our defence is the best form of attack. With Ivanovic’s forays down the right and Vidic’s strong presence during set pieces, people are expecting a few goals from these two during the WC. To put it simply, if either of them gets injured (I hate myself for even thinking about this) prior to WC, I reserve the right to change my previous prediction.
The part of the tournament I am looking forward to the most, is shedding the stereotype that Serbian teams’ give up when the going gets tough. Showing the world we play a form of football that is entertaining and easy on the eye is one of the reasons this WC excites me.
2. YOUR PLAYERS
- Who are your best players? Who is the best young player to watch out for?
The best players in the Serbian team, as stated earlier, are Nemanja Vidić and Branislav Ivanović. DejanStanković, Milan Jovanović and especially Miloš Krasić are also ones to note down, for their experience, drive and sheer skill, respectively. The young player to look out for is the21-year-old centre back Neven Subotić, the defender is one of the most wanted young players in Europe and if given a chance at the WC might prove all the hype surrounding him to be correct. Antic has been trying a few guys to play alongside Vidic, all of whom were playing out of position (Lukovic, Dragutinovic) and Subotic is seen as great hope. My prediction is, due to the recent injury to Dragutinovic, Antic will start with either Lukovic or Aleksandar Kolarov at left back, and Subotic will start alongside Vidic. However, watch out for Matic (Chelsea ) and Rajkovic (Chealsea Loan to Twente) in future competitions. Both of these guys were dropped from the provisional squad.
- Who is the weakest link in your likely starting team? Do you think any of your players are not good enough?
The one glaring weak link, an open wound, who should not have been picked, and is in the sqaud only to preserve the aforementioned ‘good morale’, is Goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković. Serbia is generally weak at the GK position, but there are guys who have played over the last 2 years and played decently. Stojkovic has played, all up, including WC qualifying, about 10 games in last 2 years. The bloke should not be there but in Antic We Trust. I feel all our other players are at a reasonable standard and prepared for a WC. However, Antić has potentially picked a few players who are too inexperienced, such as Partizan Belgrade’s Radosav Petrović. But they are the squad players and taken for the experience.
- Who is your hardest player? The one like to commit most fouls?
Our hardest player is Nemanja Vidić, he has already shown to English fans that he is made of strong stuff. His head seems to be made of metal. Vidić will show the oppositions’ attack his presence on the pitch by pushing them to their physical and mental limit.
3. YOUR COACH
- Are you happy with the manager? What tactics do you expect?
Happy is not an appropriate word to describe how most Serbian fans feel about Antić. A statue should be built to honour Antić and his achievements as a club and national team manager. He has shown he can make Serbia play entertaining, yet successful, football through a Barcelona influenced 4-3-3 tactic.
4. YOUR RIVALS
- Who will win the tournament? Why?
Spain. Clearly the best tactical and technical side in the tournament. Spain has the deepest and best World Cup squad, possibly one of the greatest ever. They also play some of the best football I have ever seen.
- How far will England get? Please include your exact prediction for them. What do
you think of their team?
I feel that England will reach and then suffer defeat at the quarterfinal stage. England is full of talented players that are under the constant pressure of a fanatical football nation. This has caused problems for every generation of English footballers since 1966 and unfortunately I feel it will also drag down this team. The English team is suffering because of the favouritism toward certain players, such as John Terry who is an extremely overrated player. If Capello can get his team’s focus on playing football and off the expectations, they will go very far at the World Cup.
- Who will finish as overall top scorer in the tournament?
- Which nation do you dislike most, and why?
Of the nations competing at the World Cup, France is a nation that I dislike with a passion. The main reason is Raymond Domenech, who is about as likeable as a swift kick to the groin. My dislike is probably a leftover from the qualifying campaign, but also from a football purist’s point of view that they play shocking football, for a team with so much talent. I think the saviour of French football is coming soon, in the form of Laurent Blanc. But in a nutshell, yeah it’s their current coach!
- Who is the rival player you really love to hate?
Didier Drogba, petulant and arrogant. Good player though!
5. YOUR FANS
- What is your nation's favourite chant? (Please translate if necessary!)
U Boj Krenite Junaci Svi…! (“Into battle, go forth all you heroes…” Traditional Serbian song recalling a battle in WWI. Hair raising stuff when sang by 60,000 in a packed stadium.)
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