Since gaining independence in 2006, this World Cup will be the best chance for Serbia to run deep into the tournament. While they placed fourth in 1930 and 1962 while still a part of Yugoslavia, Serbia has only been able to advance to the group stage twice since that country’s dissolution—in 2018 and 2010 as well as in 2006 as Serbia & Montenegro. Serbia did surprise Germany in the 2010 World Cup group stage, but they squandered their chances of qualifying by losing to Australia. Similarly, their 2018 campaign was derailed by losses to Switzerland and Brazil, despite a promising start with a victory over Costa Rica. Surprisingly, Serbia was once again placed in Group G for this year’s tournament along with Switzerland and Brazil, with Cameroon replacing Costa Rica.
The two teams that defeated Serbia four years ago are in their group, giving Serbia the ideal opportunity to demonstrate how far they have come since then. The team’s performance in recent seasons would indicate that they had advanced significantly. Serbia, who did not make it to Euro 2020, finished first in their World Cup qualifying group without losing a game, defeating Portugal into second place after stealing a point from them in Belgrade and then winning in Lisbon. Serbia followed up that great season by winning their Nations League group and moving up to the elite division after defeating Sweden and Norway at home.
Dragan Stojkovic has managed Serbia to just three losses in 20 games since taking over in March 2021, and two of those losses came in friendly matches. Given his unusual path to management, the hiring of the 57-year-old may have sounded odd. Stojkovic served as a player for clubs like Marseille and Red Star Belgrade until retiring, at which point he was elected president of the Serbian FA and later Red Star. The former player later transitioned into coaching with Japanese club Nagoya Grampus, but prior to assuming command of the national team, he had only worked for Chinese club Guangzhou R&F and had never coached outside of Asia.
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