What to expect from Serbia U21s
Wednesday, 1 April 2015
UEFA.com's Sonja Nikčević assesses the chances of Serbia, who possess credentials including a new coach and a superb play-off success against Spain.
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There were few conclusions to draw from Serbia's final matches before June's UEFA European Under-21 Championship as they lost to Sweden on Friday before beating Italy on Monday, both games ending 1-0. The Serbian side did not display the quality witnessed throughout qualifying, which culminated in an attention-grabbing play-off success over champions Spain, and newly appointed coach Mladen Dodić will have his work cut out to recreate the cohesive team play and sturdy defending that threatened Europe's big boys.
However, with Liverpool FC's Lazar Marković set to rejoin the fold from the senior squad, and if Borussia Dortmund's Miloš Jojić can rediscover the form that had people predicting big things last season, Serbia can still have a huge say in the summer shake-up.
Positives and negatives
The forward line in the home defeat by Sweden was short on creativity, failing to produce a single scoring opportunity until the 85th minute. Instead of showing the Novi Sad crowd the level of performance that had carried them through qualification, Serbia lacked unity despite featuring a majority of players from October's Spanish success. To compound that, miscommunication between defence and midfield allowed Sweden to sneak in for the only goal.
However, three days later in Benevento, Serbia put in a far more promising effort against Italy. Led by captain Goran Čaušić in midfield, they pressured their hosts and took full advantage of a red card for Domenico Berardi, with Luka Milunović scoring in the second half. The result left the Serbia skipper confident his side are on the right track. "We didn't play our best football against Sweden. This has been our first gathering since October and I think we will get better day in, day out. By June our game will be at the next level," said Čaušić.
"These two matches were important for us to get physically and mentally in shape. Every loss is tough and every win is the best possible confidence boost, but the most important thing is that the positive results come at the European Championship," he added.
The Sweden friendly was Dodić's first outing as Radomir Ćurčić's replacement after the latter's promotion to the senior helm, and the new man sees plenty of potential in the squad. "My communication with the players is great but there is still a lot we can improve, on and off the pitch. Against Sweden we made too many mistakes in defence, this is something we have to work on. There is still plenty of time until June, and our squad list is not final – a number of key players are currently with the seniors."
Čaušić and goalkeeper Marko Dmitrović emphasised that the two March warm-ups were crucial in getting to know the boss. "We have a new coach and a new atmosphere to get used to. We needed these games to get to know the coach better and to grow as a team," Čaušić said. "I am sure we will get better as a team, have a better understanding with the coach, and be at the top of our game," Dmitrović added.
EURO expectations: What they said
Mladen Dodić, coach
What is certain is that after that play-off second leg with Spain [a 2-1 win in Cadiz] the rest of Europe are taking us more seriously – every team will be especially focused when playing against us. It will be like this in the Czech Republic, where every team taking part is a title contender.
Goran Čaušić, captain
The championship will be very even this year, it is hard to pick a favourite. Spain were favourites in their play-off with us and that just shows that you never know. We will do everything we can to achieve a positive result. We are in a difficult group – our opening match against Germany is, in my opinion, the most difficult game of the EURO and the most important. If we manage to win, it will make our job much easier.