Many fans were left with an impression of déjà vu when World Cup Group G in Qatar was drawn. As in 2018, Brazil, Switzerland and Serbia fell into the same group. The only change was the presence of Cameroon in place of Costa Rica.
At first glance, the formation of the group could represent good omens for Brazilians and Swiss, after all, they were the ones who advanced to the round of 16 in Russia. However, for the Serbs, this will be the perfect chance to prove the team’s evolution and seek a rematch.
“At first I was a little disappointed [com o sorteio], because it would have been nice to play against different teams, but thinking about it again, I wonder if that would really be a good thing. We will try to achieve better results than those obtained in Russia,” said midfielder Milinkovic-Savic, 27, a Serbian-born Spanish national, who plays for Lazio (ITA).
The country’s results since the fall in the last World Cup suggest that the team will give more work to rivals and have a good chance of advancing to the knockout stage this time.
Although they missed out on Euro 2020, Serbia finished undefeated in their group in the Qualifiers and was responsible for forcing Portugal to play the play offs before confirming their place in the Cup.
In Belgrade, there was a tie between the two teams by 2-2, in a result that the hosts went to seek after the Portuguese opened two goals in advantage.
Then, in Lisbon, in the last round, the Serbians won by 2 to 1, with a goal from Mitrović already in the 45th minute of the second half, making Cristiano Ronaldo and his teammates angry.
After the match, the Manchester United (ING) star came to sit on the lawn, desolate. Then he went to one of the Serbia players and questioned his party. “You wouldn’t be laughing now if the goal I scored there hadn’t been disallowed. Take it easy,” the Portuguese told his rival, as coach Fernando Santos told TVI, from Portugal.
In the first confrontation between the countries, Ronaldo thought he had scored to make it 3-2, but defender Stefan Mitrovic made a cart over the line – at least that’s what the referee saw. In fact, the ball actually crossed the mark, however, as there was no VAR, the goal was not allowed.
If the Portuguese number 7 ended up going blank in both matches, the one who stood out was Mitrović, athlete from Fulham (ING). In addition to the winning goal in the last round, he was the one who started the Serbs’ reaction in the first confrontation.
Alongside Dušan Vlahović, the Serbian forward forms one of the pairs that should give the defenders more work.
Vlahović, by the way, was the protagonist of one of the biggest transfers of the last window, when Juventus decided to pay 75 million euros (about R$ 453 million at the time) to get him out of Fiorentina. English clubs and rivals Milan were also interested in the striker, often compared to Sweden’s Ibrahimovic.
As two F1 drivers fighting for first place, Vlahovic and Mitrovic will want to outdo each other in terms of goals at the Worlds, which potentiates the style of coach Dragan Stojković. “I’m a coach who likes the team to play attractive and inventive football,” he said.
In addition to the offensive duo, names like Kostic, Tadic and Milinkovic-Savic also support the Serbian squad.
“We need to play one game at a time and try to put together a winning streak. But our main objective will be to get ahead of the group,” said Milinkovic-Savic.
As part of the former Yugoslavia, Serbia has finished fourth twice in World Cup history, in 1930 and 1962. Since gaining independence in 1991, however, Serbs have never progressed beyond the group stage of the tournament.
“We have to have realistic expectations and not get carried away, like in the qualifiers,” added the midfielder.