Banking on surprise element

Banking on surprise element

Team in focus Serbia: Antics boys keen to make a big impression in mega event

Banking on surprise element

Intense training: Serbia’s Milos Krasic (left) vies with team-mate Gojko Kacar during a training session at Kovilovo. AFPLocal media gave Serbia only a slim chance of reaching the 2010 World Cup after their failure to qualify for Euro 2008 under Spaniard Javier Clemente was followed by a five-match winless streak under Miroslav Djukic.

He was sacked to make way for Radomir Antic and there was little in the early stages of his reign to suggest the former Real Madrid and Barcelona coach had the magic ingredients to restore Serbia's fortunes. An unimpressive 2-0 win over Faroe Islands in the opening match was followed by a 2-1 defeat in France, but six wins and a draw followed to secure Serbia's passage with one match to spare. Serbia qualified for their first major tournament as an independent nation under Antic but whether they can live up to growing expectations at home in the finals will largely depend on their ability to cope with a tough tournament schedule.

Qualifiers in Europe are played over a period of 14 months and the format allows all entrants enough time to prepare for each battle on the road to the finals, which is often essential to second-tier teams such as Serbia. The gruelling, 32-team tournament in South Africa leaves no room for error, with three group games crammed into 10 days followed by three knockout rounds leading up to the final. Depth in the squad becomes essential when injuries and suspensions mount and although Serbia now appear to have their strongest outfit in the past few years, they will be wary of the 2006 World Cup fiasco when they crashed out with three group-stage defeats as Serbia and Montenegro. Their chances of reaching the last 16 from Group D may rest heavily on the outcome of their opening match against the Ghanaians in Pretoria on June 13.

 Colours: Red shirts, blue shorts and white socks.
 Nickname: Orlovi (Eagles).
 Previous World Cup Appearances: 9 as part of former Yugoslavia (1930, 1950, 1954, 1958, 1962, 1974, 1982, 1990, 1998). One as Serbia and Montenegro (2006).
 Best World Cup performance: Semifinals 1930 and fourth place in 1962 as part of former Yugoslavia.
 Coach: Radomir Antic.
 Most capped player: Savo Milosevic 102
 Top scorer: Savo Milosevic 37.

Antic hopes to guide Serbia to greater glory in SA

Radomir AnticAlthough a relative novice at international management, Serbia coach Radomir Antic has pretty much seen it all in a colourful 22 years of mixed fortunes on soccer's touchline, reports Reuters from Belgrade.

Antic's iron-fisted approach quickly paid dividends as he restored flagging discipline in the squad and steered Serbia to their first major tournament as an independent nation, having finished ahead of 2006 finalists France in Europe's qualifying Group Seven. The 61-year-old Antic won the players' respect and unanimous praise from the media for his ability to turn Serbia's fortunes.