Serbia Controls Their Destiny

 

Tuesday evening I attended the Serbia versus Faroe Islands European Cup Qualifying Match. Serbia is in Group C and is trying to qualify for this summer’s European Cup hosted by Poland and Ukraine. With a 3-1 defeat of the Faroe Islands, they move into second place in the group.

Italy, the first place team in the group, are 8 points clear and guaranteed a spot. The second place team in the group earns a spot in a play-in round against another second place club in one of the nine groups, or if they have one of the best records for a second place team, they earn an automatic bid.

The second place spot in Serbia’s Group C is tightly contested. The good thing is Serbia controls their own fate. The other two teams behind Serbia (14 points) are Estonia (13 points) and Slovenia (11 points). Let’s break down Serbia’s chances of winning the second place position.

Serbia has two games left while the other two only have one game remaining. Serbia is hosting Italy and traveling to Slovenia next month. How they need to do depends on Estonia. Estonia travels to Northern Ireland. Let’s say Estonia wins the game in Belfast to finish the group with 16 points. That would mean that Serbia needs win at least one of the games to qualify. Both matches will be difficult. The Italians will be coming with a second-rate team because they have already qualified. It will be an emotionally-charged game. Last fall, Italy was granted a 3-0 forfeit over Serbia because the game could not be played due to a few hooligans in and out of the stadium. The match in Slovenia will not be easy either. All of the ex-Yugoslavian Derby matches are hard fought, and Slovenia has a decent team as evidenced by their qualification in the last World Cup.

We really enjoyed the game. Because no one expected the Faroe Islands to win, the stadium was only about half full and we had excellent, comfortable seats. It is a joke that the Faroe Islands can compete as an independent nation. They are located half-way between Scotland and Iceland and have a population of around 50,000. We were joking that the balding, slightly overweight striker, took a couple days off postal duties to play in the game.

I have to give the Faroe Islands team credit however. They gave a good effort, scored a goal, and they even had a cheering section behind us. Normally, young men in the Serbian crowd would look menacingly at the opposing cheering section, but because of the quirkiness and small size of the contingent, they were more laughing and staring as anything. The group has an odd chant as the their team approached the goal or had a corner kick. They even had one guy with a Viking helmet in Faroe Island colors. (see below) They even have earned 4 points in the group with a win over Estonia, which could ultimately determine Serbia’s fate.

It would be great for the “Orlovi” (Eagles as the Serbian team is nicknamed) to qualify. They had a tumultuous group stage with a coaching change, and a forfeit in Italy which also resulted in a home game against Northern Ireland in an empty stadium.

It is nice for once for Serbia to control their own destiny in trying to get into a European event. This is much different than their attempts to get into the EU. Go Serbia! Navije Srbija!

A Great Serbian Comeback in an Empty Stadium

It was a strange scene last night at the Red Star Stadium here in Belgrade. Northern Ireland came to town for a Group C Euro Cup Soccer Qualifying Match. No one except for 200 VIP Northern Ireland guest supporters were allowed in the stadium. The normal packed scene of lines of fans around the stadium was eerily empty. The only people we saw the press corp and plenty of police and military personnel to keep spectators and hooligans away. (photo below) The Serbian Football Federation was serving a 1-game penalty for fan behavior in October’s match in Italy. The match couldn’t start because of a group of hooligans and Italy was awarded a 3-0 forfeit victory. Last night’s game was the second part of the sanction.

 

It was an entertaining match. I was surprised because Northern Ireland plays a defensive style and after scoring a beautiful goal off a set play in the first half, (screen shot above from the Serbian television station RTS – Radio, Television of Serbia) I thought it would be more boring delay tactics with nine men in the box for the visitors. Fortunately, Serbia kept on pressing and in a dominant second half, scored two goals to win 2-1. It was odd to watch on TV and hear individual voices of players and coaches.

The first round of games in the group are complete. Despite the forfeit, closed stadium, losing their coach, and suffering many injuries, the “White Eagles” are tied for second place with Slovenija in their group behind Italy. The top two teams qualify for next summer’s European Cup hosted jointly by Poland and Ukraine. They have 5 more games with the next game being in Talin, Estonia on Tuesday. Hopefully the momentum of the victory will carry them through a probably cold and dreary game in the far north of the European continent.

Note that the “Gazprom” painting on the seats is the owner of the Red Star professional soccer club in Belgrade. Gazprom is the Russian National Petroleum company. Earlier in the week, Vladimir Putin was in Belgrade and the stadium. Red Star played an exhibition match in his honor with a Russian team.

I can’t wait to go to the next Serbian in September against the Faroe Islands. I think it is good that FIFA penalized the Serbian Soccer Federation. They need to invest in the stadium and clean up those disaffected youths that give the country a bad name. I also feel that the Serbian government is also to blame in that it does not have a good economy to provide opportunities for these young men to put their energy towards making Serbia better and establishing careers.

Serbia Versus France

 

I photographed this sign close to my house. It is in the Cyrillic script and reads in the Serbian Latin script, “Srce Na Teren” which in English translates to “Leave Your Heart On the Field.” I guess some other rough English translations would be to “Give 100%” “Do or Die” “There is No Tomorrow”. They are all sport cliches refering to the big World Cup Qualifying match that will occur September 9, 2009 (09.09.09).

Serbia leads the Group 7 European Qualifying for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa. They have a five point advantage over second place, and group favorite France. France has an extra game to play on September 5, hosting Romania. If they win, they will then come into the Serbia game only 2 points behind. After playing Serbia, France has only to host the tiny Faroe Islands and Austria in October when group play completes. Serbia has a bit tougher after France, hosting Romania and then traveling to Lithuania. So it looks like the September 9th game will decide the group winner. 

Serbia lost to France 1-2 back in September of last year. This is their only loss and they have been impressive, winning in Romania and Austria. France has stumbled twice, losing in Vienna and a draw in Romania. It will be a fantastic match. The team finishing second place in the group will have to play a second place team in another group to qualify for South Africa. I’ll definitely be blogging the game live. 

I have previously blogged about the Serbian soccer team here, and our near death experience here.

September 9th Update: I watched the game from my home. I had the High School Open House at my school the same night as the game. I got home in time to watch it. I saw the Serbian penalty goal. It didn’t look like much of a foul, but the ref had to call it. I think the red card was a bit excessive. Great penalty kick, however, and Serbia was up 1-0. France came back to equalize on a good goal by veteran Henry. I had to put my daughter to bed at halftime and missed the second half. I watched the highlights immediately after the game. Serbia hit the crossbar on one good attempt but couldn’t get another goal. 

I think they played well and with a tie, it makes next month’s game (Serbia hosting on Saturday October 10) with Romania huge. They are still four points clear of France, but with France hosting the Faroe Islands in the next round, they can expect France to get three points. A win at home against Romania would clinch a spot in South Africa. Another tie, and it will come down to the last game on Wednesday October 14. Serbia goes to Lithuania and France hosts Austria. 

Serbia controls their own destiny and I would like to see them beat Romania to earn their place in the World Cup this summer! 


 

Serbia Defeats Sweden

Last night a bunch of us from school went to the national soccer team of Serbia play an exhibition match with Sweden. The game was held in Partizan Stadium, which is close to the school. Serbia is doing well lately in it World Cup Qualifying Group and continued to play top flight soccer with a 2 – 0 victory.
The “White Eagles” got off to a fast start with a goal in the first minute of play by the 6 foot 8 striker, Nikola Zigic. He plays in the Spanish league (Racing Santander) and used his height to head in a crossing pass into the back of the net.

Boys from ISB Enjoy the Game
Boys from ISB Enjoy the Game

Sweden dominated play in the first half but did not get a goal. I had to go home to take care of the kids as Nadia has the flu and needed help. Fortunately, I didn’t miss much of a half and got back in time to see Serbia get back control of play. They scored a second goal in the 82nd minute by Bosko Jankovic, who plays for Serie A team Genoa.
Serbia is currently first in its group in qualifying for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa. They are at the midway point of the games. The top team in this European Group 7 qualifies automatically for the World Cup. In the remaining five games, Serbia will host Austria on June 6, travel to the Faroe Islands on June 10. When I get back from summer holidays, they have a huge game against soccer powerhouse France on September 9 at Red Star Stadium. They then host Romania on October 10, and finish the qualifying round by traveling to Lithuania October 14.
Serbia’s main rival in the group, France, defeated Serbia, but they lost to Austria and tied Romania, to end up 2 points behind Serbia. Lithuania is third, 3 points behind Serbia and Austria is five points behind.

Kosovo-born, CSKA Moscow Player Milos Krasic Heads Towards the Net
Kosovo-born, CSKA Moscow Player Milos Krasic Heads Towards the Net

Serbia features several European professional soccer superstars. The captain of the national team, Nemanja Vidic is considered one of the top defenders in Europe and plays for Manchester United. They have many young stars and this is a team that has a shot, as its toughest games in the second half of the qualifying round are at home. Regardless of the outcome, it will be exciting to follow.