What one Serbian journalist told us ahead of the key clash
With Wales travelling to Serbia for Sunday’s crucial Group D World Cup Qualifying match, we spoke to one Serbian journalist about how the hosts are feeling ahead of the match.
Y Ddraig: Serbia are at the top of Group D — what’s the feeling in Serbia about the qualifying campaign so far?
Nebojša Marković: The feeling in Serbia is quite optimistic, for the first time after many years of poor results and missing out on all tournaments since WC 2010. Now, people are optimistic, but with a dose of caution, because people realize it will be hard for Serbia to reach World Cup if they don’t finish top of the group, as the play-offs are always tricky.
YD: Last time, the teams drew 1–1 in Cardiff. How was that result viewed back home?
NM: It was viewed as a good result, having in mind that Serbia were losing and having in mind it was an away match. There was a slight disappointment we weren’t able to get all 3 points, but mostly it was a positive feeling afterwards.
YD: Who are the key men for Serbia?
NM: Key man is absolutely Dušan Tadić. His stats in these qualifiers are by far the best of all players in European zone of qualifiers. He’s been involved in almost all of our goals and Muslin gives him a lot of freedom, which players like him always need. Also, Aleksandar Mitrović has been great, in spite of not playing much this season for Newcastle.
YD: Tactically, how does Slavoljub Muslin line up his Serbia side?
NM: He is playing in 3–4–3 style, kind of like Conte at Chelsea (though he implemented that before Conte did at Stamford Bridge). Ivanović plays at CB, Kolarov sometimes plays left CB and sometimes left wing back, while Matić and Milivojević usually form the midfield duo at the centre of the pitch. Filip Kostić, a pacey winger is on one side while Tadić is on the opposite one (they interchange during matches) and Mitrović is upfront, kind of like Diego Costa for Chelsea. Right WB is usually Antonio Rukavina and 3rd CB depends on situation — sometimes it is Matija Nastasić, sometimes Jagoš Vuković, sometimes Nikola Maksimović of Napoli.
YD: Looking at the Welsh squad, who are you fearful of? Gareth Bale being absent is a huge plus for Serbia, but does anyone else standout for you?
NM: It’s mostly Wales’ midfield, with Ramsey, Ledley and Allen playing there. There is a feeling that Wales is weaker defensively during these qualifiers, while upfront Vokes and Robson-Kanu don’t feel like world class players we should really be fearing as much as these midfield players.
YD: Finally, what is your score prediction?
NM: My prediction is it will be a tough match, hard fought from both sides. I believe Serbia will, with slight defensive improvements, win this one. Wales seem a bit ‘exhausted’ after a great Euro 2016 and Dušan Tadić and Aleksandar Mitrović on their day can torment almost any team. For a specific result, I’d go for 1–0 or 2–1 Serbia.
Thanks again to Nebojša Marković for his input ahead of the key clash. Be sure to follow him on Twitter.