Serbia Camp Focus – Failure to convert cost the Serbs

Serbia’s World Cup campaign has started in the worst possible way after a disappointing defeat in Pretoria this afternoon. With high expectations going into their clash against Ghana, the Serbians never seemed to turn up and were quite fortunate to come away with only a 1-0 defeat. An 84th minute penalty by Asamoah Gyan was enough to defeat the 10 men of Serbia, who will need to sharpen up if they are to reach the knockout rounds. The overall performance from the team will have left Coach Radomir Antic in disarray and he will have a lot to work on before their second game.

The game was billed as an interesting affair, with the two sides looking the more likely to battle for that final qualification spot in the group. Serbia started off the brightest and looked as if they stamped a mark of intent in the game with Marko Pantelic having an ambitious shot only 30 seconds in. The first-half was played at a fast tempo, but both teams failed to cause any problems. The main route of play from the teams was through their wingers, and it seemed as if Serbia’s main chance to cause damage was to hurt Ghana with the rapid pace of Milan Jovanovic and Miloš Krasic. However as the half wore on both failed to make any real impact, with Krasic’s touch letting him down on a couple of occasions. It was not until the 39th minute before either keeper was troubled, with Serbia captain Dejan Stankovic shooting from long-range, but it was straight at Richard Kingson. Going into the interval Serbia would have perhaps been the happier of the sides, with Ghana controlling the game yet unable to capitalise.

The second half consisted of few chances again for Serbia, but one of the easier chances fell to their striker Nikola Žigic. Pantelic did some good work on the left before cutting inside and whipped a dangerous ball to the far post. Žigic however failed to make good enough contact and it bounced off his ankle and away from goal. Jovanovic tried hard on the left and made a few good dribbles, but the lack of movement from the static forwards made it pointless. Antic looked a frustrated figure on the touchline and tried to shake things up by taking off Nenad Milijaš for Stuttgart’s Zdravko Kuzmanovic on the hour mark after noticing his central midfielders never got a foothold of the game. Žigic never really looked settled in the match and looked an irritated figure up top, continuously pulling deep trying to get involved. The young Ghanaians looked sharp and caused problems with their pace, especially Andre Ayew who gave Branislav Ivanovic a lot of problems, quite uncommon for the normally consistent defender.

The game changed in the 74th minute when Aleksandar Lukovic, who was arguably Serbia’s best player, was sent-off for his second bookable offence. Both tackles were reckless and the red card was justified. Ironically this seemed to be a wake-up call for the White Eagles, who up until that point seemed content with getting a draw, and created two big chances, most notably through Krasic. The current Serbian player-of-the-year had a big chance when the ball was cut-inside by Danko Lazovic before the winger’s left footed shot was straight at the opposing keeper.

However the game was won by a mistake from the 22 year-old sub Kuzmanovic. In attempt to defend a cross he missed his header and the ball hit his upraised arm, in which the assistant alerted the referee. Gyan’s penalty was blasted into the net and the Black Stars got the goal they so richly deserved, although they could have had two when Gyan’s shot at the end hit the post.

A cause for concern would have been how many of the big players never showed up for Serbia. Defensively they were stable, but the full-backs failed to have any impact in the oppositions half of the pitch. The centre of midfield went missing, especially Stankovic who failed to inspire his team-mates. The strikers never received any service and when they did they had little support from their midfield. Looking at the substitute bench there is little there to push on into the starting line-up, so Antic will need to get his players to play to their ability if they are going to get results against Germany and Australia.

Today was meant to be the game in which Serbia used the global stage to demonstrate their potential, but they couldn’t have been more disappointing. They have five days to correct the mistakes of today, otherwise they will fall victims to a strong German side.

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