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Talented Serbia Are A World Cup Dark Horse

Jun 06, 2018 1:45 AM EDT

The Odds

  • To win the World Cup: +950
  • To win Group E: +800
  • To advance to Round of 16: +105

Bet To Watch

Serbia to advance from Group E +105 (5Dimes)

While the presence of pre-tournament favorites Brazil was far from the draw that the remaining teams in Group E would have hoped for, all three have reason to feel confident that second place is well within their grasp. While Switzerland are the most experienced of the three at major tournaments in recent times and Costa Rica were the surprise package four years ago, on paper it’s Serbia that have the strongest squad, with only their lack of experience at this level as an independent nation going against them.

Nevertheless, the Eastern Europeans came through a competitive group to make it this far, finishing above three sides in the form of Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria that competed at a Euro 2016 tournament for which Serbia failed to qualify. In truth the side has underachieved until now, making the decision to part ways with the man who led them to Russia — Slavoljub Muslin — and replace him with rookie Mladen Krstajic a very bold one indeed.

The former international defender’s first competitive game in management will come in the group opener with Costa Rica, and it’s a game neither side dare lose. As mentioned, Serbia undoubtedly have the superior individual talent, but their Central American opponents are stubborn and tough to break down to say the least. Luckily for Krstajic, not only does he have an imposing shield in the form of Premier League pair Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic to protect what is an ageing defense but also an array of creative talent.

 

Dusan Tadic, Adem Ljajic and Andrija Zivkovic are all capable of playing that killer pass, but the most important player — despite being untested at international level — could be Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The Lazio star has the tools to pick the locks but also the physicality to break doors off their hinges if that’s not working and, stationed from an advanced position in midfield, has a combination of brawn and brains that could be decisive. So too will the confidence of Aleksandar Mitrovic up front having fired Fulham to the Premier League, while in youngster Luka Jovic they have a bustling center-forward in the same mold ready to ruffle some feathers from the bench.

Serbia did catch a break with their schedule and will hope that by the time they play Brazil in their final game, if they themselves haven’t already booked a place in the knockout rounds, that Brazil has. Even though Serbia are marginal third favorites to qualify from Group E, I’d back them to do just that at +105 (they are +125 at some European books such as Bet Victor). It’s a price that should shorten substantially if the opening matches pan out as expected, so best to get on before a ball is kicked!


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