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Serbia v Spain background

Serbia knocked Spain out in the 2015 play-offs, ending their opponents' four-year reign as champions; can Spain turn the tables in the final round of Group B games?

Spain's Saúl Ñíguez (left) tussles with Filip Stojković of Serbia in their 2015 play-off second leg
Spain's Saúl Ñíguez (left) tussles with Filip Stojković of Serbia in their 2015 play-off second leg ©Getty Images

Spain may have had the better of their matches with Serbia over the years, but the teams' last encounter ended in considerable disappointment for the Iberian side. Now they meet again as the curtain comes down on Group B.

Previous meetings
• Serbia beat Spain in the play-offs for the 2015 finals – breaking their opponents' four-year grip on the trophy, won by Spain in 2011 and 2013. The first game in Jagodina finished goalless, a Saúl Ñíguez own goal (31) then giving Serbia the lead in the Cadiz return. Although Sergi Roberto equalised two minutes into added time, a minute later Filip Kostić confirmed Serbia's victory and finals place.

• The teams at Gradski stadion on 10 October 2014 were:
Serbia: Dmitrović, Kovačević (Mijailović 82), Petković, Veljković, Pantić, Radoja, Pešić (Djurdjević 87), Čaušić, Kostić, Petrović, Srnić (Čavrić 67).
Spain: Arrizabalaga, Manquillo, Moreno, Gómez, Muniesa, Saúl Ñíguez, Muniain (Torres 77), Sergi, Isco, Deulofeu (Sarabia 70), Morata.

• The line-ups for the second leg, at Ramón de Carranza on 14 October, were:
Spain: Arrizabalaga, Manquillo, Gayà, Gómez, Muniesa (Torres 69), Saúl Ñíguez, Muniain (Sandro 55), Sergi, Isco, Deulofeu (Sarabia 62), El Haddadi.
Serbia: Dmitrović, Kovačević, Veljković, Radojs (Mijailović 85), Pešić (Čavrić 71), Čaušić, Kostić, Petrović, Ćirković, Srnić, Stojković (Filipović 64).

• Andrés Iniesta scored both goals in the next-to-last meeting between the sides, a 2-0 Spanish success in Madrid in qualifying for the 2006 finals. Boško Janković had got the only goal as Serbia and Montenegro won the home game.

• Spain also played Yugoslavia in eight competitive matches, winning five – including the last four – and losing only two. Perhaps the most significant fixture came in the 1984 semi-finals. Spain edged the first leg in Belgrade 1-0 through Emilio Butragueño's first-half penalty, before a 2-0 home triumph in Malaga. Spain would lose to England in the final.

Match background

• Serbia previously participated at the 2009 and 2015 finals, being ousted in the group stage in each tournament, having also lost the 2007 final to hosts the Netherlands. As Serbia and Montenegro they were 2004 runners-up and 2006 semi-finalists; as part of Yugoslavia, they were champions in the inaugural U21 event of 1978, subsequently reaching the final in 1990 and the semi-finals in 1980 and 1984.

• In 2017 qualifying, Serbia came a point behind Group 2 winners Italy in second spot, winning seven of their ten fixtures and drawing two – losing only to Slovenia. As one of the four best runners-up, Serbia contested the play-offs, overcoming Norway 2-1 over two legs (2-0 home, 0-1 away).

• Champions in 2011 and 2013, Spain missed the 2015 event after that Serbia defeat but have qualified for the fourth time in five editions. They again needed the play-offs, having finished second in Group 6 behind holders Sweden; Spain picked up seven wins and two draws from their ten fixtures, losing only at home to Croatia (0-3).

• Spain were paired with Austria in the play-offs, progressing on away goals after a 1-1 away and a goalless home draw.

• Spain were also champions in 1986 and 1998, their squad including Míchel Salgado, Guti, Miguel Ángel Angulo and Juan Carlos Valerón in that latter campaign. They were runners-up in 1984 and 1996 as well as third in 1994 and 2000.

Coach and player links
• Gerard Deulofeu was in the Spain team that dispatched Serbia 4-0 in the group stage of the 2011 European U19 Championship.

• Midfielder Nemanja Maksimović joins Valencia this summer from Kazakh club Astana.

• Have played together:
Mijat Gaćinović & Jesús Vallejo (Eintracht Frankfurt, 2016–)

Coach profiles

Nenad Lalatović, Serbia
Rose through the youth ranks at Crvena zvezda and, after several loans elsewhere, won two league titles and two Serbia and Montenegro Cups before departing for Shakhtar Donetsk in 2003. Became a league champion in Ukraine in 2005, having also had a loan stint in Germany with Wolfsburg the previous year.

Finishing his playing days in Serbia, hanging up his boots aged only 29. Swiftly moved into coaching, taking over at Srem in 2011 before short spells in charge of several other clubs, including Crvena zvzeda and Vojvodina. Appointed by Belgrade outfit Čukarički in late 2016, early this year he took the Serbia U21 job in addition to his club commitments.

Albert Celades, Spain
A defensive midfielder who enjoyed a decorated 15-year playing career embellished by four Liga titles, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup. Having joined Barcelona aged 14, Celades debuted under Johan Cruyff in 1995/96. Following 101 appearances for the club, he joined Celta Vigo before becoming one of the few players to have crossed the Barcelona-Real Madrid divide, in 2000.

Five years later, after a loan stay at Bordeaux, he switched to Zaragoza prior to spending a season in Major League Soccer with New York, where he eventually quit playing. In 2013, four years after retiring, he took over Spain's U16s; next he was installed as U21 coach after Julen Lopetegui, now leading the seniors, left for Porto in 2014.