Serbia’s World Cup Dream Is Over

14 07 2010

The feeling of déjà vu will be the predominant thought of the Serbian supporters after disappointment once more in an international tournament. Four years ago they entered the World Cup with hope, yet fell once they reached the finals, but it looked as if this time around they would progress from the group stage. After a dire performance against Ghana in their 1-0 defeat in the opening game – in what seemed a must-win match if they were to progress – they needed to really lift themselves to defeat a German side who looked very sharp in their comfortable first match victory. Serbia showed spirit, determination and regained the spark which they had during qualification. So going into the final fixture against Australia, who were sitting at the bottom of Group D, Serbia knew they would be the makers of their own destiny.

Radomir Antic admitted that he would contemplate changes if his team were to gain anything from the remaining games, and he adopted a 4-3-3 formation knowing he needed to stifle the opponents. Zdravko Kuzmanovic 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. Aleksandar Lukovic was back in his role alongside Nemanja Vidic in the heart of defence after his red card in the first game. But perhaps the biggest surprise was the inclusion of Ivan Obradovic on the left side of defence, although the regular Aleksandar Kolarov was a yellow away from a suspension which may have crossed his Coach’s mind, although in hindsight was not the best of choices.

Serbia And Antic's World Cup Are Finished

The mentality of the team was to attack, which is something they had not done previously, and use the pace of Milan Jovanović and Miloš Krasić on the wings to stretch the opposition. However, Australia started off in a defensive manner and were on the back foot for the majority of the first period. For the duration of the first half the White Eagles dominated the encounter, yet could not convert any chances, which has proved so costly. They should have taken the lead in the 12th minute after Milos Krasic rounded Mark Schwarzer, but sliced his shot wide from an acute angle. Krasic was the target of the opposition crowd who jeered every time he touched the ball after they thought he went down to easily in search of a penalty. Chances fell to the likes of Branislav Ivanović and Nikola Zigić, but they failed to score from close range, but the main reason was because of the goalkeeping heroics from Schwarzer. The tactics that Radomir Antić adopted seemed to be working perfectly, but the resilience and robustness from Pim Verbeek’s side was crucial to the outcome of the game.

The Aussies were less cautious after the break and with 20 minutes remaining took the lead when Tim Cahill scored a trademark header. Things went from bad to worse for Serbia when Australian substitute Brett Holman was allowed space to run into and struck an audacious shot from 30 yards out which beat keeper Vladimir Stojkovic. After all his brilliance, Schwarzer fumbled a routine save from Zoran Tosic’s free-kick which allowed substitute Marko Pantelic to tap in from close-range, giving Serbia the momentum for the closing stages. Pantelic was heavily involved in the action and had a goal disallowed for offside, but the drama was not finished. With moments to spare the ball fell to him seven yards out yet he somehow managed to smash it wide, to the dismay of the supporters. With Ghana losing in their game, the most frustrating thought for the Serbian faithful will be they were just one goal from qualifying, and unfortunately Pantelic is the man who cost them. There was a penalty shout towards the end of the match after it seemed Cahill handled the ball, which sparked intimidating behaviour towards the referee from the likes of Vidic, but it was to no avail.

So Antic’s men will look back on their time in South Africa with the thought of what-ifs. With such high expectations from football fans after their impressive qualification, they once again failed to show their ability on the world stage. The obvious problem was their inability to convert their chances. In both the first and last games they squandered many opportunities which would normally be converted, especially by the likes of Nikola Zigic, who heaped pressure on himself saying he would score the goals this summer. Maybe if the team played football as well as they played handball then the outcome may have been different.

As seen on – A Different League

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