Scouting report: England’s first Euro 2024 opponents Serbia banking on firepower trumping frailty | Football News

After Serbia’s two decades in the European Championship wilderness and group-stage exits in their last three World Cups, it is high time the country’s talented crop of attack-minded players made their mark on a major tournament.

The Eagles have yet to land since Serbia became an independent nation in 2006, despite proven firepower in their ranks and a squad packed with regulars from Italy’s top-flight clubs.

Euro 2024 in Germany could be their opening, with the country’s leading football icon Dragan Stojkovic in charge for his second major tournament and certain to build his team around a strong attacking line.

On Sunday, they face England – runners-up three years ago on home soil – in their Euro 2024 group opener in Gelsenkirchen.

Stojkovic knows that despite a recent run of one win in five games, including the shock 1-0 defeat to Iceland at Wembley, their opponents remain among the favourites to be crowned champions in Germany.

England conceded just four goals across an unbeaten qualifying campaign, but while Serbia will have made plans to stifle Harry Kane and an array of talent, what can we expect to see from them as an attacking force?

Serbia were potent from crosses during the qualifiers
Serbia were potent from crosses during the qualifiers

Who are Serbia’s danger men?

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, second left, celebrates scoring against Sweden
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, second left, celebrates scoring against Sweden

Serbia will pin their hopes on marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic extending a superb run of form in all competitions, with five goals from seven games in Euro 2024 qualifying and averaging a goal per game in the Saudi league this season.

With the likes of Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Cole Palmer and Jude Bellingham, there is real hope Southgate’s squad can end a near 60-year wait for a major international trophy – but Serbia will be encouraged by the nature of Iceland’s winning goal last week.

Southgate must decide on whether to persist with Kobbie Mainoo and Declan Rice as his preferred midfield pairing, after Hakon Haraldsson ghosted into space before setting up Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson’s finish.

Dusan Vlahovic provides another attacking weapon
Dusan Vlahovic provides another attacking weapon

No team has ever won a World Cup or European Championship having lost their final warm-up game. Given England’s defensive concerns and question marks over the fitness of Saka and Bellingham, Southgate knows there must be a big improvement if it is to be a winning start.

Serbia enjoyed the perfect send-off as they cruised to a comfortable 3-0 over Sweden in their final friendly ahead of the tournament courtesy of goals from Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Mitrovic and Dusan Tadic.

Did you know?

33% of Serbia’s goals in UEFA EURO 2024 qualifying were headers (5 out of 15), the highest ratio amongst any team that have reached the finals in Germany.

Dusan Vlahovic has abundant potential after two-and-a-half Serie A seasons with Juventus that have garnered 33 goals in 75 matches but he faces a critical test as to whether he can unleash his flair and deft finishing on the international stage.

“Mitrovic has shown numerous times how devoted he is to the Serbian jersey,” said Stojkovic. “He is showing that same devotion for the clubs he plays for. He’s a lad whom you can trust.

“That’s an important quality. Those are pretty big things as forwards can sometimes be pretty selfish or they can just look to be that one player who scores and decides the match.

Serbia scored 15 goals in the qualifiers - three of which were scored by defenders - including one from Milos Veljkovic (right) against Bulgaria
Serbia scored 15 goals in the qualifiers – three of which were scored by defenders – including one from Milos Veljkovic (right) against Bulgaria

“Vlahovic is, in my opinion, one of the most talented forwards in Europe. He’s still very young. What he has achieved in the last two or three years, when he made the breakthrough and signed for a club as big as Juventus, is all the result of his great dedication and the goals he scored. As a person he’s a very humble lad, which is very important. I like his character and I love how devoted he is.”

Veteran captain Tadic will play a pivotal role as an attacking midfielder tucked behind Mitrovic, while Serbia can also turn to Fulham’s Sasa Lukic, AC Milan’s Luka Jovic and versatile former Lazio midfielder Milinkovic-Savic.

Where are Serbia vulnerable?

Serbia will need to be better defensively than they were at the 2022 World Cup
Serbia will need to be better defensively than they were at the 2022 World Cup

While Serbia’s attacking threat is clear, so is their defensive frailty, having leaked eight goals in three games in a dismal 2022 World Cup, opens new tab and kept clean sheets in only two Euro 2024 qualifying matches.

Serbia will have to plug those holes in Germany and may need the stars to align if they are to advance from the group stages of a major tournament for the first time.

Stojkovic sees a tricky group as a big challenge, with an unenviable opener against England that will make goals and points in the remaining two matches vital to Serbia’s chances of making history.

Did you know?

Serbia’s most recent UEFA EURO finals appearance was in 2000 as FR Yugoslavia, reaching the quarter-finals before losing 6-1 to the Netherlands. It remains the only time a nation has conceded six goals in a UEFA EURO match.

“Game by game we will go to make a result as best as possible… the games against Slovenia and Denmark will be really, really important for us,” he said.

“We need to be ready to fight against all three teams. But these two games, Slovenia and Denmark, will be decisive.

“We’ve certainly achieved something big. This qualification to the EURO has been long awaited. There were many missed opportunities [to qualify] in the past. But this time, the goal that I have set for myself as a head coach – and which was set by the Serbian FA as the authority – has been fulfilled.

“It was quite… I wouldn’t say dramatic, but a rather tough [journey]. The road to success is never easy. But, in this time for Serbian football, for our country, nation and the fans – and everyone who loves this game – I think qualifying in itself was a huge step forward and an achievement.”

Are Serbia this summer’s dark horses?

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Former Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic tells us what we can expect from his nation ahead of Euro 2024 where they face England in the group stages.

Former Manchester United and Serbia defender Nemanja Vidic told Sky Sports:

“I think we have a good group of players. And if I look at the group we are in, we are definitely after England, the best team in the group. We are very good going forward. We have a lot of players that can score goals.

“And, obviously, we have Mitrovic, Tadic, Markovic, Jovic. So going forward, we are doing very well. We have some issues, in defensive part, but I’m sure that the manager is working on it. And I hope that he will solve that issues until the European Championship start. But we are all excited.

“And after many years, we are again in the European Championship, and we have big expectation for this team. In the last World Cup, we score goals, more goals than actually Brazil. So, you know, that counts. We can hurt the teams, but we have to just solve a few issues, and we are ready.”

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Watch Aleksandar Mitrovic’s best Premier League goals from the 2022-23 season.

Vidic: Mitrovic still Serbia’s biggest threat

“He’s the best scorer. You could say he went to the league that is not in in the level of Premier League, any Italian league or Spanish league.

“But that can be positive because I think that the English players, Italian players, they will be tired from the very intense and demanding the championship and obviously Champions League.

“Maybe that can maybe give them more energy and maybe they want to show the European people, that they are still in good shape. I don’t see that as a negative thing because they know to play football. They’re good football players. They’re professional and, I’m looking forward to this European Championship.”

With your defensive hat on, what do you make of England’s attacking options?

“I think England have good players, but you have to be good as a team.

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Michael Dawson picks his starting XI for England’s opening Euro 2024 game against Serbia.

“So, we’ll see, you know, how that’s going to work with England in this European Championships. It’s not easy to be consistent in every game. England, I think, if you look at the players, I think they are the favourites in this European Championships. No question about it. But they have to prove it on the pitch.

What would it mean for Serbia to beat England?

“It would mean a lot.

“We watch all those players on the TV. We watch the Premier League a lot. So, you know, it will mean a lot to the Serbian fans, and that will be a statement for the next games that we will play. It will be party time at my house in Belgrade.”

Do England need to outscore Serbia?

Serbia will pin their hopes on marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic
Serbia will pin their hopes on marksman Aleksandar Mitrovic

Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds:

This is a dangerous opener for England. This is not a walkover by any means. Serbia are 33rd in the FIFA world rankings and will build their team around servicing all-time record goalscorer Mitrovic.

The former Fulham striker has 58 goals in 91 appearances for his country and will relish the prospect of facing an England defence that failed to keep a clean sheet against Iceland.

It is perhaps easy to forget he is still only 29. Serbia have qualified for three of the last four World Cups, and their strengths lie in their attack.

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Sky Sports News’ chief reported Kaveh Solhekol takes a closer look at England’s opening Euro 2024 game opponents, Serbia.

England’s defensive inexperience could be exposed by the talent of Vlahovic and the presence of Mitrovic. Stojkovic isn’t afraid of being quite gung-ho in his approach and will give it a real go.

England could run into problems, but what the last World Cup exemplified about Serbia is how watchable they were going forward, particularly against Cameroon and Switzerland.

But what undermined their progress was their porous defence, which meant they finished bottom of their group. Players of great imagination can wreak havoc.

The left winger Lazar Samardzic scored six goals and provided two assists for Udinese in Serie A last season and the 22-year-old could feed off any uncertainty.

England cannot have the mindset of merely looking to avoid defeat in their first game. If it is to be John Stones and Marc Guehi, there is no doubt that Mitrovic and Vlahovic will cause problems.

Full Serbia Squad

Goalkeepers: Vanja Milinkovic Savic (Torino), Dorde Petrovic (Chelsea) and Predrag Rajkovic (Mallorca)

Defenders: Strahinja Pavlovic (RB Salzburg), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina), Srdan Babic (Spartak Moscow), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Uros Spajic (Red Star Belgrade) and Nemanja Stojic (TSC Backa Topola)

Midfielders: Sasa Lukic (Fulham), Nemanja Gudelj (Seviila)Nemanja Maksimovic (Getafe), Ivan Ilic (Torino), Srdan Mijailovic (Red Star Belgrade), Sergej Milenkovic-Savic (Al-Hilal), Dusan Tadic (Fenerbahce), Lazar Samardzic (Udinese), Vejko Birmancevic (Sparta Prague), Filip Kostic (Juventus), Andrija Zivkovic (PAOK), Filip Mladenovic (Panathinaikos) and Mijat Gacinovic (AEK Athens)

Forwards: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Al-Hilal), Dusan Vlahovic (Juventus), Luka Jovic (AC Milan) and Petar Ratkov (RB Salzburg)

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