It seemed like it would be a case of déjà vu for the Serbian supporters. Four years ago they entered the World Cup with hope, yet fell greatly once they reached the finals, and it looked as if they would once more fall at the group stage. After a dire performance against Ghana in their 1-0 defeat last Sunday; in what seemed a must win game if they were to progress, they needed to really lift themselves if they were to defeat a German side who looked very sharp in their comfortable 4-0 group opener. Serbia showed spirit, determination and regained the spark which they had during qualification, and also had a helping hand from the referee.
Radomir Antić admitted before the match that he would contemplate changes if his team were to gain anything from the next two games, and he was true to his word. He adopted a 4-3-3 formation knowing he needed to stifle the German midfield that had Mesut Özil playing in ‘the hole’, so Zdravko Kuzmanović was promoted into the starting line-up with a specific defensive job, although they were hoping he wouldn’t give away a foolish penalty again. Neven Subotić was given the role to play alongside Nemanja Vidić in the heart of defence, after his usual partner Aleksandar Luković was suspended after his red card last-week. The mentality of the team was to play defensive, slow the tempo of the game and to absorb the Germans who would attack in numbers, then to hit them on the counter-attack with the pace of Milan Jovanović and Miloš Krasić on the wings. After such a weak performance in the centre of midfield in the first game, Miloš Ninković was asked to play alongside his captain and the tactics that Radomir Antić adopted were perfect.
The match turned in the White Eagles favour in the 37th minute when Germany’s potent forward Miroslav Klose was sent off for two bookable offences, although on second viewing they seemed to be a bit harsh. Serbia would like to think that was karma, after all Luković didn’t seem to do enough to warrant his red card last week, which has brought into question whether the referees are too hasty to produce yellow-cards. The red-card woke up Antić’s side and within a minute they had taken the lead. Krasić raced down the wing and crossed delightfully to the far post where 6’8” forward Nikola Žigić was lurking. In doing so he attracted two defenders, leaving a big gap in the centre of the penalty area, and headed it down to Jovanović who gratefully obliged and slotted home their first ever World Cup goal. They were perhaps fortunate to come away with the victory after the amount of chances that fell to the opposition, especially Lukas Podolski; who missed a penalty which was well saved by Vladimir Stojković, but the three points were happily received from a match they would have settled for a draw.
There were many positives the Coach could take from the game, especially with the defensive display. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidić was colossal and won everything aerially, although he had a lapse of concentration which resulted in conceding a penalty by attempting a superman impression. Subotić was a brilliant deputy and will cause heartache for his coach who will find it hard to drop him. The wingers were brilliant all game, causing Germany many problems, especially to their left-back Holger Badstuber who was run ragged by Krasić. Maybe the ambition of the Coach will be questioned as the game was there for the taking, yet Serbia seemed content to settle and defend their one goal advantage rather than further it.
Although the victory will no doubt have regained the confidence amongst the camp, Branislav Ivanović has warned his team-mates that they still have a lot of work to do. “It’s given us back the respect that we lost in the first game. But we have not finished. We must perform, we must stay compact, and we must stay strong in our third game. Everyone is happy now at the moment and there’s a great feeling – but we are not qualified.” The victory will hopefully set Serbia on their way and perform the way their fans know they can. Maybe it might have been the nerves that halted them in their opening fixture, but they now need to use this momentum and win their final group game against Australia to ensure qualification.