The Beli Orlovi (White Eagles) of Serbia are a new football country. Disbanding from Montengro the former Yugolsav republic makes it World Cup debut in South Africa. Serbian blogger for www.worldcupblog.org/ Nikola Burazer spoke to Half Time Heroes direct from Belgrade and gave some valuable insights and information about the Socceroos Group D final opponents.
I hope you are reading this Pim?
Half Time Heroes: After the World Cup draw was announced, some dubbed Group D containing the Socceroos, Germany, Serbia and Ghana has the third group of death. What was your first reaction when you saw the draw?
Nikola Burazer: To be honest, the first thing I felt was relief. In the 2006 World Cup we were placed in a group with Argentina, Netherlands and Ivory Coast, a “Group of Death” by all standards, to it was nice to be in a group not labelled as such. But, I have some real respect for all of our opponents in the forthcoming World Cup and I don’t think Serbia has an open road for qualification to the next round.
Although both Ghana and Australia are weaker teams on paper, they are both capable of making a misery out of our World Cup dreams, I even dare to say that football style difference make our clashes against Ghana and Australia virtually unpredictable. That’s why I felt pretty uncomfortable, and to be totally honest, I still do.
HTH: What’s been the reaction by the management of your respective teams? Do they see the Socceroos as a threat?
NB: The management’s reaction was reasonably optimistic. Germany is of course, labelled as a main threat, with Ghana being our direct rival to qualify from the group. Australia isn’t mentioned as much, the focus was on our chances to battle it out with Germany for the top spot with qualification itself being a pretty achievable feat. This might smell of arrogance to some, but this Serbian team currently has a great degree of self-belief and high hopes for this tournament, so any other reaction would’ve been false modesty from the management.
HTH: Who do you consider to be your key players and what are your teams main strengths?
NB: I think that we actually have two pairs of key players. The first is a defensive pairing of Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidić and Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanović, while the second are our regular wingers, Standard Liege’s Milan Jovanović and CSKA Moskva’s Miloš Krasić. The first two are the backbone of our defense, while our winger duo represents the source of our offensive power. Jovanović is a “Player of the year” in Belgium and has recently signed a pre-contract with Liverpool, while Krasić also represents a highly sought-after commodity.
If I had to chose one key player, it would be him. Miloš Krasić is probably our best player on the pitch for the last few years, so yes, he could be considered to be THE key player for Serbia at the World Cup.
HTH: Any weaknesses that you care to quietly mention? A dodgy keeper or a suspect defender perhaps?
NB: An excellent keeper with a tendency to make horrific mistakes. Vladimir Stojković has proven himself lots of times in the national team, but I doubt there are any Serbian fans out there not worrying about whether he will make a blunder or not. In a game that could’ve destroyed our World Cup dreams, his mistake gave France a goal in Belgrade. I don’t want to bash a player that has played so well for the team with some magnificent saves, but Stojković really is a goalkeeper that does make blunders from time to time, so he could be considered as a potential weak link in our team.
HTH: What do you know about Australian football and are there any players you think your team should keep an eye on?
NB: Regrettably, I don’t know much about Australian football except for their feats in the last World Cup, and of course, some of Australian key players currently playing in Europe. Players like Harry Kewell, Mark Bresciano and Tim Cahill ring a lot of bells, but I haven’t watched the Australian team play recently to be able to see where the main threat comes from. Australia has a team to be respected, that’s for sure.
HTH: How do you think your team will adapt to the conditions in South Africa where teams can expect high altitude, differing weather conditions and those ubiquitous vuvuzelas that will be blasting for the whole game?
NB: As long as the pitch is in perfect shape, there are no excuses. There are some difficulties with the weather,
altitude and those omni-present vuvuzelas, but all the teams have the same conditions to play in and I wouldn’t like to see any whining in the media by our team if things go wrong.
Serbia will have their final preparations in the mountains of Austria, probably to adjust to similar weather conditions. Our team has already had the privilege to play in South Africa last August, defeating the hosts in a friendly and having their first taste of South African winter. I think it should be alright.
HTH: Australian fans have bought tickets in large numbers. What kind of support can your team expect in South Africa?
NB: I highly doubt there are going to be many fans travelling all the way from Serbia to South Africa in order to support our team, but we do expect quite a large number of our supporters to be there. South Africa is a home to many Serbians and people of Serbian descent who are delighted to have the chance to see our national team play over there. It may not be as if we are playing at home, but it will probably be close as it can get to this.
HTH: Are you happy with the coach and the way the team is playing leading in to the world cup and is there anything you would change?
NB: Radomir Antić has been a wonder-maker for Serbia since he took over the team at the start of the qualifiers, overly criticising both him and the team would be highly unfair. He created the team spirit we have desperately lacked, built a highly functional offensive unit with lots of goal-scoring capabilities and returned the cult of the National team to the entire nation. His results and achievements have been so impressive that, regardless of some bad decisions and tactics in some individual games, there isn’t anything I would change in his general approach and tactics that he tries to employ.
But, if I needed to make one single remark on his management of the team, I would point out at the lack of concentration our defense seems to having from time to time, unacceptable when the quality of our defensive players is taken into account. Antić needs to solidify our defenses if he wants our team to compete with the best.
HTH: Tell us the player in your team that annoys you the most and why?
NB: A tough question. Sincerely, there aren’t such players in the team, most of the players capable of making me really angry are also capable of doing some great things. I’m trying really hard, but I can’t name a single player that plays in the first team and annoys me on a regular basis. Marko Pantelić seems to get close, but he’s also one of my favourite players, so he doesn’t really deserve such a negative label.
HTH: The player you like the most?
NB: This is an even tougher question. I guess it’s a three-horse race between Miloš Krasić, Milan Jovanović and Branislav Ivanović. I’ve already labelled those three as key players, and I can’t really decide between them. But if I had to chose one, I’d name the most underrated of the three, Milan Jovanović. The world is yet to see his capabilities when he starts playing for Liverpool after the World Cup, but I hope he will shine even more at the tournament proper.
HTH: Lastly please give me a prediction on how your team will progress and also who will be the winner and loser of the World Cup?
NB: Well, a part of me fears the worst, a repeat of Germany 2006, while the other part dreams of us fighting for the title. But let’s be realistic: I think we will qualify from the group as a second placed team and then bow out after clashing with England. I think we could go a step further if we manage to claim the top spot in the group, but we have too many issues with playing with the top sides for me to dare to predict anything more than that.
An elimination from the first knockout round remains the outcome with the highest possibility. And if I had to predict the winner, I’d chose Brazil. There’s a tradition in the last few decades that says European teams don’t win World Cups outside Europe, so that leaves us with Brazil and Argentina as realistic candidates. But, as this is a special World Cup by all standards, I believe miracles can happen. Maybe the football world is getting near to some great surprises like the one when Greece won Euro 2004. To be honest, I have a feeling this is going to be a World Cup to remember.