Euro 2024 team guides part 11: Serbia

Estimated read time 7 min read

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.


No, this article wasn’t penned during a session on a sofa with a psychotherapist – even though Serbia fans might be ripe for therapy after each and every major tournament. Everything about Serbia’s national team has been more about psychology than football for decades.

Only this time, it might be in Serbia’s favour. This is the first time the team heads to a major tournament without any expectations. After memorably beating Portugal in Lisbon to finish the World Cup qualifiers in 2021, everything took a downward turn. Serbia squandered a 3-1 lead against Cameroon in the group stage in Qatar, and they haven’t regained their confidence since.

Once brimming with optimism and the belief that Serbia could beat any team in the world, the coach, Dragan Stojkovic, has lost the fans’ trust. The qualifiers for this tournament were very poor, but Serbia managed to squeeze through because they were in what was surely one of the weakest qualification groups ever. A good number of players have moved to lower-tier clubs, and their form is fluctuating. Historically, Serbia have not coped well under pressure. Now, with absolutely no expectations, they might shine.

Stojkovic is unconcerned with tactics, and his style is always highly attacking – Serbia can concede goals to anyone at any time. However, he argues that they can also score more goals than anyone. Spoiler alert: Serbia can’t actually really do that.

After the match against Bulgaria, where Serbia scraped into these Euros with a 2-2 draw at home against the side who finished bottom of the group, Stojkovic reminded everyone of some previous harrowing episodes. “Remember how bad it was against Scotland in the playoff for the last European Championship. These guys have shown incredible mentality, and that’s what’s needed to qualify for major tournaments,” Stojkovic said.

Another spoiler: no, Serbia has never demonstrated consistent team mental strength.

The Serbian media wrote that Stojkovic’s position as coach was in jeopardy, especially when the former Manchester United great Nemanja Vidic publicly criticised him over his salary. Stojkovic had a response: “I’ve earned all of it.”

Advancing beyond the group stage would be a sufficient argument for the Serbian public to support his claim.

The coach

Some 40 years since he made his debut as a 19-year-old for Yugoslavia in the 1984 finals (he scored a penalty in a 3-2 defeat by eventual winners France), Dragan Stojkovic is still the face of his national team. Back then, in France, he rose to prominence to become a key player; he was the captain of the team that was brought back from Sweden in 1992 following the United Nations sanctions and the last-minute removal of Yugoslavia from the eight-team finals due to the conflict in the Balkans. He was still there eight years later, aged 35, when he captained FR Yugoslavia who reached the quarter-finals at Euro 2000. Now, as a coach, he has taken the team back to the championship after 24 years. That may sound like a fairytale but the atmosphere is rather less celebratory due to the team’s form. The man nicknamed Piksi has had to dust his superhero costume off again.

The icon

“Dukica is the future of this national team,” said the late Sinisa Mihajlovic, the former head coach of Serbia, about Dusan Tadic. He lauded Tadic and envisioned where he would play in the heart of Serbia’s midfield, supported by Filip Djuricic. Future coaches did not seem to share this vision, and the national team director, Savo Milosevic, had said that Tadic was convinced he was “God-given, and he is not.” Fortunately, unlike Djuricic, Tadic returned to the forefront and earned the team leader role. He captained Serbia at the last World Cup and won his 100th cap last year, formed a tremendous partnership with striker Aleksandar Mitrovic and an excellent understanding with the coach Stojkovic. Fans see him as Stojkovic’s successor in the No 10 shirt.

Serbia’s Dusan Tadic stretches during a training session as part of the team’s preparation for the upcoming Euro 2024 tournament.View image in fullscreen

One to watch

In Serbia, everything that happens is portrayed as a war or a diplomatic feud. So, when Lazar Samardzic decided to play for Serbia instead of his native Germany, it was hailed as a small diplomatic victory. Born in Berlin, Samardzic is seen by the Football Association of Serbia as the successor to Tadic in terms of creativity, leadership ability, and influence on the team. The Udinese player is already on the radar of numerous scouts, with Nottingham Forest inquiring about his price.

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The maverick

Where once stood Mitrovic, today it’s Dusan Vlahovic. A player of high calibre, not entirely satisfied with his role either at his club, Juventus, or with the national team. You never know what’s around the corner with Vlahovic – two goals and an assist or wandering on the field and gesturing toward the bench. Thankfully, in this tournament, Switzerland are not in the same group as Serbia, so no one will be making inflammatory political statements (until the knockout stage at least).

The spine

The backbone of the Serbian team consists of two brothers. With these four players, Serbia can connect its game. The goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic instills great confidence in his teammates and has a bold presence on the field. Strahinja Pavlovic, who commands the defence, shows similar bravery, and every Serbian attack begins with him. In the midfield, captain Dusan Tadic is crucial. Still, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is the player who should be, at least in theory, connecting the team’s lines. Aleksandar Mitrovic is a goal machine and his presence is always a morale booster.

Probable starting XI

Serbia predicted lineupView image in fullscreen

Celebrity fan

Everyone loves the Serbia national team, except when everyone hates the Serbia national team. Only tennis ace Novak Djokovic stands out because he doesn’t hide his support and always closely follows what’s happening around the team. Well, Novak is also a big fan of the Croatian national team, and he has a soft spot for Red Star, Milan, Monaco, and maybe some other clubs. However, he has never stood at the centre for the opening kick at a national team match, but someone else has – actor Milos Bikovic, at a recent friendly match in Moscow. It was also quite a statement: the famous actor had just been kicked out of HBO’s hit TV show the White Lotus, reportedly because of his support for Vladimir Putin.

Culinary delight

If you consume heavy food, your blood pressure may drop, leading to a loss of concentration and focus. This is why Serbs drink rakija on an empty stomach. Initially, it may bring on feelings of euphoria, but then you may start developing all sorts of theories. Even NBA stars mention rakija (calling it “Serbian brandy,” until Luka Doncic corrects them with the proper term). Additionally, rakija was sometimes subtly referenced during the World Cup press conferences of the head coach Stojkovic in Qatar. When feeling unwell, rakija can also help calm your nerves and soothe your wounds.

The Serbia team guide was written by Uros Jovicic for Nedeljnik


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