Saturday 23 June 2018, 12:31

Swiss slip leaves lessons for Serbia

  • Serbia’s Russia 2018 ambitions took a blow in Switzerland’s comeback win

  • We look at some of the key areas in which Serbia may need to focus

  • They meet in Brazil in a must-win match

​By Sonja Nikcevic with Serbia

After a bright start and an early Aleksandar Mitrovic goal, Serbia became the first team at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ to have a lead overturned. The 2-1 loss to Switzerland after an inspired late winner from Xherdan Shaqiri is not a display the team will be proud of, but the first match in Samara and all of the first half in Kaliningrad have shown that Serbia have the quality for sturdy positioning, set-piece danger and attractive football, if used well.

We look at the lessons Mladen Krstajic’s men can take from defeat as they attempt to pick themselves up and turn to a crucial third matchday meeting with Brazil.

Sitting back

Serbia started the match better than they could have imaged with a goal after five minutes. A powerful header from Mitrovic came after early initiative, energy along the wings and a cross for Serbia’s main target man – the game plan to take on the Swiss executed to perfection. However, the danger of an early goal lies in sitting back too quickly, and being drained of the energy needed to defend until the final whistle.

The initiative was handed to the Swiss, and while Serbia were still the more dangerous team on the counter, this team has the quality and the creative potential to be comfortable with proactive attacking football and have the confidence to, after scoring one, go for another goal.

Holding midfield

The motor behind Serbia’s first round win was the defensive midfield partnership between Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic, who held Serbia’s lines together and left space for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Dusan Tadic to push forward.

As the match against Switzerland was coming to a close, Serbia took a risk by taking off Milivojevic and putting in fast-paced debutant Nemanja Radonjic on the wing, in the hope of catching Switzerland on a surprise counter. What happened was the opposite, with Shaqiri finding space between Serbia’s attack and defense and securing victory on the counter. The 169cm tall midfielder was Switzerland’s most dangerous player throughout, constantly troubling Serbia with cutting runs through the center of the pitch.

Brazil is another team known for its pace and skill, with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho all set to run at Serbia’s backline until they find a way through. The way to prevent that, is to have Milivojevic and Matic holding the midfield together, and building on the defensive support from the rest of the team. As a disappointed, but defiant Dusan Tadic said after the match: “If we defend like a team, we can beat anyone, even Brazil.”

Moving on

After the win against Costa Rica, Serbia’s coaching staff were quick to point out that the victory had been analysed and archived and that all thoughts were on Switzerland. The same should be said now. There is no time to dwell on what is no doubt a difficult defeat, but it is one that can be branded a learning curve and a place to grown from.