Friday, July 12, 2024

Prediction: Serbia vs England

Verdict: Both teams to score

Best odds: 1/1

Bookmaker: BetUS

England’s quest to banish the demons of Euro 2020 begins at the Veltins-Arena on Sunday night, as the Three Lions commence their bid for Euro 2024 supremacy against Group C foes Serbia.

Neither nation has lifted the Henri Delaunay Trophy aloft since the inception of the continental championships, and both Denmark, the 1992 winners, and Slovenia will provide stiff competition for the coveted knockout places.

Serbia

Two-time runners-up in the European Championships during their Yugoslavian era in 1960 and 1968, Serbia are making their debut in this year’s tournament, having never before qualified for the quadrennial continental event as an independent nation.

Under the guidance of head coach Dragan Stojkovic, widely regarded as one of the greatest talents to have represented the country, the Eagles had a mixed qualifying campaign, securing four wins from eight matches. Nevertheless, their tally of 14 points earned them a second-place finish behind Hungary.

Serbia’s qualifying outcomes exhibited a clear pattern—they achieved double victories over Lithuania and Montenegro, drew twice with Bulgaria, and suffered two defeats to Hungary. This performance ended their 24-year absence from the Euros, dating back to Yugoslavia’s quarterfinal appearance in 2000.

Featuring well-known forwards such as Juventus’s Dusan Vlahovic, Ajax’s fan-favorite Dusan Tadic, and Al-Hilal duo Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia’s recent form has been inconsistent, with only four wins from their last 11 matches.

However, two of those victories have come in their last three friendlies, narrowly defeating Cyprus 1-0 and scoring three against Sweden, interspersed with a close loss to Austria. England’s lacklustre performance in June might give Stojkovic’s squad some hope of thwarting the Three Lions’ dreams of football glory.

Team News

Unlike some of their Euro 2024 rivals, Serbia emerged from the June warm-up period without any physical setbacks and have their key players available. Consequently, Stojkovic faces a positive selection dilemma in the attacking third.

The Eagles’ head coach has typically refrained from starting both Vlahovic and Mitrovic together up front and may continue this strategy, allowing Tadic – the most-capped player in Serbia’s history with 108 appearances – to take one place in the attacking line.

Nemanja Maksimovic, who was rested for the victory over Sweden after a head injury against Austria, is likely to return to the midfield. Additionally, Werder Bremen’s Milos Veljkovic is expected to rejoin the three-man defensive line in front of either Predrag Rajkovic or Vanja Milinkovic-Savic in goal.

England

In less than three years since England’s collective euphoria at Wembley – where Luke Shaw’s precise volley at the back post nearly secured a long-awaited European triumph – Italian veterans dashed their hopes, dealing another painful penalty defeat to the disheartened hosts.

Despite facing renewed criticism for his tactical decisions and fleeting speculation about a move to Manchester United – now dissipated – Gareth Southgate remains firmly at the helm, guiding England through an unbeaten qualification campaign following their familiar quarterfinal exit at the 2022 World Cup.

Two redemptive victories over reigning champions Italy contributed to England’s six qualifying wins. However, recent performances have possibly tarnished their status as pre-tournament favorites, as Southgate’s side achieved just one victory in their last five games.

Even that win – a 3-0 triumph over Bosnia and Herzegovina – proved to be a dull encounter until the final 30 minutes, and further frustration ensued with a 1-0 loss to Iceland, their Euro 2016 tormentors, at Wembley. Despite 90 minutes of relentless effort, England lacked the decisive edge needed to secure a result.

Southgate rotated his squad throughout the friendlies, and although England have not lost in the group stages since their Euro 2004 opener against France, this record may offer little solace to the pessimists, as they prepare to face Serbia for the first time since the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Team News

Southgate appears to have overcome concerns about key defender John Stones, who suffered an ankle knock during the loss to Iceland. Stones has been isolated as a precaution but has returned to normal training sessions.

As a result, Luke Shaw remains the only expected absentee for Sunday’s opening match. Shaw has resumed full training following a muscular issue but will be kept out as a precautionary measure, allowing Kieran Trippier to continue in the left-back role. Liverpool’s Joe Gomez is another option.

Key attackers Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka are eager to play after their rest periods, and Southgate is likely to deploy Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield following his impressive performance against Bosnia.

Conclusion

With Serbian attackers extremely powerful in the air and England playing without Harry Maguire, Stojkovic’s men might well score in this match, though England should still show enough quality to overcome this particular opponent.

Verdict: Both teams to score

Best odds: 1/1

Bookmaker: BetUS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on seven different football blogs.

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