Key Battles That Will Shape Serbia's Clash with France

Andrew Gibney@@gibney_aFeatured ColumnistSeptember 6, 2014

Key Battles That Will Shape Serbia's Clash with France

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    Darko Vojinovic/Associated Press

    This weekend, teams around Europe begin their campaign to achieve qualification to the 2016 European Championships in France. Serbia’s clash with France may be a friendly, but it is an important step in both sides' development.

    France come off the back of a very important victory over Spain at the Stade de France and this is likely to be the last game before Didier Deschamps begins to make changes that will shape his squad for the tournament in two years’ time.

    The Stadion Partizana in Belgrade will host Serbia’s first game since they lost 1-0 to Brazil in June, and it will be the first game under new boss Dick Advocaat.

    The legendary Dutch coach takes over from Ljubinko Drulovic, and the former Zenit St Petersburg and Rangers coach is tasked with the job of guiding this exciting young side to the European Championships.

    With players in the squad representing the Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga, there is little doubt they will provide many with a stern test this campaign.

    Here are the key battles that will shape Serbia’s clash with France.

Nemanja Matic vs. Paul Pogba

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    Two of Europe’s most promising midfielders go toe-to-toe on Sunday evening. Nemanja Matic may be five years Paul Pogba’s senior, but after a successful time at Portuguese side Benfica, he is now becoming a huge name in the Premier League and making the Chelsea midfield his own.

    Pogba had been linked with a move to Chelsea this summer, per Alex Harris of The Daily Star among others, but Turin continues to be his home and new Juventus boss Massimiliano Allegri is set to reap the benefits.

    Pogba’s World Cup was far from spectacular, but after his superb performance against Spain on Thursday, it looks like the 20-year-old is ready to shake off the shackles and blossom into France’s real world-class midfielder.

    This is set to be a heavyweight clash of epic proportions and whoever comes out on top will have a huge bearing on the result of Sunday’s match.

    L'Equipe POGBAMNIA La Francia ai piedi di #Pogba #rassegnastampa #edicola sab 6 sett 14 pic.twitter.com/ewgRhj4BAw

    — Fabrizio Bocca (@fabriziobocca1) September 6, 2014

    L’Equipe on Saturday morning ran with Pogba as their front page and the headline “PogbaMania” declaring that he has all the ability to become the superstar that French football has been waiting for.

    If Matic can stop Pogba’s marauding runs and keep the Juventus man in check, he will hope that Pogba’s relative inexperience will frustrate him more than inspire him.

    That would give Matic the space and time to influence the game in his own style.

Mathieu Debuchy vs. Lazar Markovic

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Premier League fans are set to watch a mouth-watering battle down the French right on Sunday night, with Liverpool’s Lazar Markovic taking on Arsenal’s Mathieu Debuchy.

    The 20-year-old attacker has yet to really feature for Liverpool this season, only making two 15-minute substitute appearances so far in the early weeks of the season. This will be a chance for Liverpool fans to get a proper glimpse of their new signing.

    Previous coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had played Markovic on the left wing; letting the lightning-quick forward use his acceleration and skill on the ball to trouble defenders.

    Often, the criticism toward Debuchy's ability is aimed at the space the full-back leaves in behind when he makes his trademark runs forward. Markovic is the perfect weapon to try and use this to Serbia’s advantage. He will try to cut inside and exploit the space that Debuchy leaves, asking questions of the Arsenal player by making him turn his head and defend.

    This battle sums up the contest between Serbia’s promising young talents against the more experienced French side. If Markovic can get the better of Debuchy, he could inspire his team-mates past Deschamps’ side.

Aleksandar Mitrovic vs. Raphael Varane

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    Christophe Ena/Associated Press

    France should be no stranger to the talents of Anderlecht’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, as the young, powerful target man was superb as Serbia defeated France in the final of 2013 U19 European Championships.

    Mitrovic got the better of both Aymeric Laporte and Antoine Conte and dominated the entire French defence as the Eastern European side recorded a 1-0 victory.

    Raphael Varane will be handed the task of stopping Mitrovic should Advocaat pick the 19-year-old over experienced Lazio striker Filip Djordjevic. Mitrovic would get the nod over the former Nantes striker due to his excellent linkup play with his back to goal and his superior aerial ability.

    @nenadsuperzmaj @HuddoHudson @Gibney_A Serbian media relatively tacit on the matter, and difficult to anticipate Advocaat's ideas

    — Igor Mladenović (@Mladenovic_) September 6, 2014

    Varane coped very well against the threat of Diego Costa on Thursday, but Mitrovic will provide a different challenge if selected.

    With Mitrovic bringing Markovic, Dusan Tadic and Zoran Tosic into play, how Varane deals with the Anderlecht forward will determine how France hold off the Serbian challenge.

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