Football

Serbia Set to Make First European Championship Appearance as an Independent Nation

Serbia National Team

Serbia is making a historic return to the European Championship for the first time since 2000. Formerly featuring Yugoslavia, FR Yugoslavia, Serbia and Montenegro, this tournament marks the first time Serbia will be playing in the Euros as an independent nation.

Considering their days as part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has been impressive in previous tournaments. Although they never won a championship, they made it to the finals on two occasions, losing to the Soviet Union in 1960 and Italy in 1968. They also made it to the semi-finals in 1976 and the quarterfinal in 2000.

The Eagles failed to make it to Euro 2020 after a painful penalty loss to Scotland but were able to secure a spot in Euro 2024 after finishing second in Group G during the qualifiers. However, they face a tough test this summer, going against Denmark, Slovenia, and championship favourites England in the group stage. While their best bet in this group is to finish as runners-up, Dragan Stojković’s men are capable of making a statement in Germany and could cause an upset. Regardless of the outcome, expect Serbia tickets to be in high demand considering that it will be their debut appearance in this tournament.

We take a look at Serbia’s form ahead of the Euros, including their potential starting lineup and fair expectations.

Serbia’s Euro 2024 Qualifying Campaign

Stojković led the Serbians to four wins, two losses, and two draws at the European Qualifiers, enough to clinch the second spot and win a ticket to the big tournament in June. Serbia’s only two losses came against eventual group leaders Hungary, losing 2-1 on Matchday 5 and by the same scoreline in the return fixture.

The Eagles’ offense was considerably stellar during the Qualifiers, with 15 goals scored. Aleksandar Mitrović was the lead scorer for the Serbians, with five goals, and will be eager to continue his excellent scoring form when Serbia kicks off their campaign this summer. However, Stojković’s biggest worry will be its defense, which conceded nine goals during the Qualifying Round. The 59-year-old will look to fix his team’s defensive weaknesses as they prepare to compete at the Euros, and hopefully go far in the tournament.

Serbia vs Group C Opponents

The Eagles find themselves in an interesting situation in the group stage, and have a great chance at advancing to the knockout round if they play at optimal strength. Serbia begins their Euro 2024 campaign with a game against England on June 16, before facing Slovenia and Denmark on June 20 and 25, respectively.

Against the Three Lions, Dragan Stojković and his men do not stand a chance on paper, barring any surprises, but will hope to secure a point, at least. The Eagles should be able to get all three points against Slovenia in the second group stage round, and if they come out victorious, could set up a potential knockout round decider against Denmark.

Potential Route to a Championship

While the main focus for Stojković will be to make it out of the group stage, he will fancy his chances of leading his team to their first-ever Championship. The Eagles have a shot at advancing to the playoffs if they can defeat Slovenia and at least draw either England or Denmark, or best-case scenario, both.

Should they make it out of the group as runner-ups, they could face hosts Germany in the Round of 16. A surprise win could see them face the winners of Group B in the quarterfinals, which is likely to be Spain, and either Portugal or the Netherlands in the semi-finals. A fairytale run to the final could put them against England, Belgium, or France.

How the Eagles Could Lineup in Euro 2024

Stojković utilized a 3-4-2-1 formation during the Qualifiers and will likely stick with this style of play at the Euros. This formation was key to Serbia’s ball dominance during the Qualifiers, allowing Stojković to field his best 11 all at once.

Vanja Milinković-Savić is the Eagles’ undisputed starting goalkeeper, and was excellent during the Qualifying Rounds, with two clean sheets. The Torino No. 1 will be joined by Predrag Rajković and Đorđe Petrović on the goalkeepers’ list. It remains to be seen if Stojković will opt for a fourth option in goal, with Aleksandar Jovanović also available for pickup.

The back three are most likely going to be Strahinja Pavlović, who has continued to shine at RB Salzburg, Miloš Veljković, and Fiorentina centre-back Nikola Milenković. The latter has been a grounded defensive piece for his club this season and will be expected to play a key defensive role in the group stage, especially against England’s lethal attack. Strahinja Eraković and Srđan Babić are great substitutes to have at the back, while veteran experience from Filip Mladenović will be available when needed.

Serbia boasts a solid midfield that could dictate the pace of a game, with Sergej Milinković-Savić leading the way. The Al-Hilal forward continues to prove himself when called upon. With 11 goals and 10 assists for his club this season, the 29-year-old has shown that he can also be an offensive threat. With Nemanja Gudelj as his potential partner in center midfield, the Eagles could also field Filip Kostić and Andrija Živković to man the wings.

Other names likely to make Stojković’s midfield roster include Matija Gluščević, Lazar Samardžić, Nemanja Radonjić, Aleksandar Čirković, Nemanja Maksimović, Ivan Ilić, Veljko Birmančević, Mijat Gaćinović, and Saša Lukić.

It gets interesting for Serbia high up the pitch with Aleksandar Mitrović leading the attack. The forward is having one of his best seasons in front of goal, with 35 goals scored in 37 games for Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal. The former Fulham player is also Serbia’s all-time leading goalscorer with 57 goals in 89 caps. For the Eagles to go far in this tournament, he will have to carry the bulk of the goalscoring load yet again.

Behind Mitrović in the starting lineup will likely be attacking midfielders Dušan Tadić and Dušan Vlahović, who has recovered from injury in time for the Euros. Tadić is Serbia’s best playmaker, and Stojković will heavily rely on his ability to create big chances and provide assists. The 35-year-old ranked second in big chances created at the Euro Qualifiers and also provided four assists, the most among Serbian players.

Other potential candidates in front include Luka Jović, Samed Baždar, and Petar Ratkov, who is also returning from injury.

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