Two nations, one dream
It is instructive to remember that the pressure currently afflicting the England camp is not unique. Serbia, guided by charismatic coach Raddy Antic, were at odds with their own press pack over a change to the security arrangements that limited access to the players. Match 7, Group D, Loftus Versfeldindia Updated: Jun 13, 2010 00:47 IST
It is instructive to remember that the pressure currently afflicting the England camp is not unique. Serbia, guided by charismatic coach Raddy Antic, were at odds with their own press pack over a change to the security arrangements that limited access to the players. But that will all be forgotten once they open against Ghana on Sunday.
The youngest state in the tournament could emerge as one of its surprise packages. They have a well-balanced team, in which Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic and Man United's Nemanja Vidic provide a solid defensive base for a talented midfield that includes the highly rated Milos Krasic and Liverpool-bound Milan Jovanovic on either flank. Up front, Birmingham City-bound Nikola Zigic combines with Marko Pantelic, who has been in strong form for Ajax.
But first Serbia must emerge from an even group that will supply England's second round opponents if Fabio Capello's team qualify from their pool. If England top their group and Serbia finish second, or vice-versa, the two will meet in the round of 16.
Captain Dejan Stankovic, who will become the first player to represent three different countries at the World Cup, said the pressure of playing their first major tournament as an independent nation state would be felt by the players but they were ready for the challenge.
“We stay in our rooms and don't really go out anywhere,” he said. “We have been given many instructions about security. We have worked a lot, we gave a lot of effort and sweat and emotion to play in the World Cup for the first time as an individual country.”
Before their match with a Ghanaian team that will be without their driving force Michael Essien. What's more, their second most high-profile star, Inter Milan midfielder Sulley Muntari, is struggling to be fit following a thigh injury, although he expects to make it.
Despite the potential threat posed by Australia, Muntari believes that this match is the most important for the team's qualification.
“Germany are the group favourites and so it will doubtless come down to Serbia — we don't know quite what to expect against them, but we know they are a good team,” he said.
One advantage Ghana have is that they will know more about their opponents than vice versa, thanks to their Serbian coach Milovan Rajevic, who insists that he has no divided loyalties. “I am 100 per cent Ghanaian. I am a professional, my primary target is to win against Serbia and to qualify,” he said.
With President Jacob Zuma and WC organisers urging South Africans to back all six African teams, Serbia expect the match to feel like an away tie. “For us, it is definitely an away match. But we're used to playing in foreign venues so we won't have any issues or problems,” said Pantelic.