World Cup Wonder – Antic charged with improving Serbia’s woeful World Cup record

Radomir Antic will be looking to use his managerial experience to guide his Serbia team through a tough group and better their performance at the last World Cup where they were eliminated in the group stages losing every single game. The Serbian side looks a strong unit and will look to base their team around a solid foundation in defence which includes Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic and Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic. Antic faces a series of tough decisions and must decide how he will set up his team up against the varying styles of football in the group.

Antic will not have a tough decision to make on who starts as goalkeeper for Serbia in the tournament. Vladimir Stojkovic has been the No 1 keeper for Serbia for four years and has over 30 caps to his name which is a great deal more than his rivals for the position. He has shown his ability at the highest level playing for Sporting Lisbon and Wigan Athletic but has failed to nail down a staring place since leaving Serbian football. Bojan Isailovic and Andelko Duricic will most likely act as deputies unless Stojkovic picks an injury – if so, Isailovic may get the nod to replace him. Unless something drastic happens expect Stojkovic to be in the starting line-up come the opening game against Ghana.

Defence is where Serbia’s main strength lies and Antic has a healthy selection headache on his hands. In the centre-back positions he will have at his disposal Nemanja Vidic, Neven Subotic, Aleksandar Lukovic and Branislav Ivanovic although he may be played at right-back. Vidic is nailed on for a starting berth as he is one of the best central defenders in the world and has proved so over the last few years at United. He is more than a match for any striker in the tournament and Antic will be delighted to have such a quality in the heart of his defence. Vidic’s partner is where Antic’s headache begins as he must choose between the promising Subotic and the reliable Lukovic who partnered Vidic at centre-back during qualifying. Antic is in a no-lose situation as both players are experienced in top level football and will be more than capable of handling most of the strikers they will face in the group stages. Even if these two struggle Antic can also shift Ivanovic from full-back to play alongside Vidic, a role which, when called upon by Chelsea last season, he performed so well in. At right-back Ivanovic looks to be the strongest candidate available to Antic although Antonio Rukavina will provide competition for the spot. At left-back the spot is a fight between Ivan Obradovic and Aleksandar Kolarov. Kolarov looks set to win the battle after an impressive season for Lazio has seen him become one of the most sort after left-backs in the world.

Spaces in the Serbian midfield will be highly contested with nine players fighting for four or five spots. Inter’s Dejan Stankovic can be assured of his place in the starting line up in the centre of midfield as he captains the side. If Antic decides to play a holding midfielder he will have to choose between Nenad Milijas and Gojko Kacar. Both have played at the top level of football and have a great deal of international experience so either could play in front of the back four. Alongside Stankovic in midfield Antic will have to choose from Zdravko Kuzmanovic, soon-to-be-Liverpool player Milan Jovanovic and Radosav Petrovic. If Antic requires a player with experience in the role next to Stankovic he may go for Jovanovic, however if younger legs and a distinct attacking threat are needed, he will most likely go for Kuzmanovic. If, as expected, Antic goes with a single striker this will leave two spots out wide. There will be three players fighting for these two spots – they are United’s Zoran Tosic, Milos Ninkovic and Milos Krasic. Although Tosic has failed to break into the United team he is still a quality player with a good record at international level. Likewise, Krasic also has an impressive record and has been a revelation at CSKA Moscow for the past six years. Ninkovic has a decent record for Dynamo Kiev but has yet to establish himself fully at international level which will most likely see him miss out on the starting spot.

Up front, if Antic goes with a lone target man expect him to go with Birmingham City’s new signing Nikola Zigic. The 6ft 8in striker will be a handful for any defence and has proved his goal scoring prowess with 16 goals in 45 games for Serbia. Should Antic go with two up front expect him to drop one of the central midfield players for either Danko Lazovic or Marko Pantelic who both have decent records at international and club level.

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