Serbia World Cup Draw


Last Friday the World Cup Soccer draw took place. There was a lot of hype and attention on the event, as everyone was hoping for an easy draw. I was most interested in Serbia’s group and this post is an analysis of their chances of winning the World Cup. 
I think people put too much emphasis on which group their team gets placed into. I look at it like it doesn’t matter when you face the tough opponents, whether in your group or in following rounds, eventually you are going to have to beat a quality opponent. For each group of 4, the top two qualify. Then the 16 teams in the 8 groups advance to the single elimination bracket. Qualifying from an easy group, a team will likely play a tough opponent in the knockout round of 16.
Serbia’s group is one of the tougher groups of the eight. Of course, the favorite is Germany. The Germans have been in the championship game 7 times in their history and have won three World Cups. The team cruised through its qualifying group, easily defeating Russia and Finland. The team once again is solid, with Chelsea star Michael Ballack leading the way. Germany’s discipline, physical play, and talent will be hard to beat.
Serbia is ranked second in the group on paper, but I would say that all three teams are just about even.  Ghana is a country of 23 million and are a traditional African power, winner several African Cups over the years. “The Black Stars” recently won the Under-20 World Cup and last World Cup, made it out of the first round, losing to Brazil 0-3 in the round of 16. The team features another Chelsea superstar, midfielder, Michael Essien, and also, former Vojvodina FK coach, and Serb, Milovan Rajevac is the coach. 
Australia qualified through Asia for the first time. Usually they compete in the Oceania group, but wanted tougher competition to prepare for the Cup. They beat Japan to get in, and their star is Tim Cahill, from Everton. 
Serbia has a good of chance as anyone. They won a tough qualifying group, finishing higher than France, Austria, and Romania. They have top league European based players, with the star being Nemanja Vidic for Manchester United. They looked out classed against France however, and I fear that both Germany and Ghana, may have a faster game than the Serbs. I do feel good with Vidic in the back, and the Serbs do play tough soccer. 
If they do get through, they will have to play either #1 or #2 of group C which features England, USA, Algeria, and Slovenia. Suppose they finish second, they could play England. The winner then plays either group 1 winner France or group 2 runner-up Argentina. That would put them in the semifinals. As you can see, it will be very tough odds for Serbia to win it all. 
There has only been a small number of teams that have won the World Cup in recent years. Realistically, the winner will be Brazil (192 million), Germany (82 million), Italy (60 million) England (50 million) France (62 million). The Netherlands, with 16.5 million, is the smallest country to consistently appear in the semifinals. Note that Croatia did make it to the 1998 semifinals which is an anomaly. My idea would be to have a large nation and a small nation World Cup. Set it at say 20 million, and nations with a population smaller than that would compete in one tourney and larger nations in the other. You could even have the winners meet. I know other factors come into play other than population, like coaching, financial support, youth programs, etc, but long-term, the chances of a very small nation winning it are remote. There are many smaller nations with excellent soccer, like Denmark, Paraguay, Portugal, etc. that would make for an interesting World Cup, small division. There is a nice article in the Wall Street Journal that has similar thoughts to my ideas. 
I would also modify the game of soccer to allow more goals. Because the extreme difficulty of scoring goals, too many games come down to a lucky bounce or an acting dive in the penalty box. I don’t like to watch a game where one team dominates play the entire game and then loses with one counter attack that results in a goal. The modifications I propose would be larger goals, more lenient offsides rule, stricter penalties for players faking a trip (automatic red card and forced to wear a pink tutu for the rest of the season or tourney), etc. I would rather see games finish 8-7 than 0-0 and a team wins with penalty kicks. 
Anyway, I’ll enjoy watching the games in June and there will be a lot of excitement here in Serbia. Living an expat global nomad lifestyle, I have several alligences to other teams including Australia and the USA. My South American teams did not qualify this time (Colombia, Bolivia, and Venezuela). 


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.