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What sort of state are Serbia in heading into the World Cup qualifier with Ireland?

Experienced coach Slavoljub Muslin has been tasked with leading them to their first major tournament since 2010.

The Serbian outfit that lined out for the start of the last qualifying campaign.
The Serbian outfit that lined out for the start of the last qualifying campaign.
Image: Darko Vojinovic

AT A GLANCE, Serbia’s final standing in the qualifying campaign for last summer’s European championships would suggest the national team is not in a great place right now.

Finishing fourth behind Portugal, Albania and Denmark, only Armenia accumulated a smaller tally than the four points they picked up in Group I.

That doesn’t tell the full story, however, as Serbia were sanctioned for their part in crowd trouble during an ill-tempered meeting with Albania in Belgrade in October 2014.

The game, which was still scoreless after 42 minutes, was abandoned after a drone bearing a flag with the words ‘Greater Albania’ was flown in the stadium, resulting in fighting among fans and players, pitch invasions and an on-field brawl as flares rained down from the stands.

Uefa initially awarded Serbia a 3-0 win but also docked them three points as well as fining both countries €100,000, but a ruling by the Court of Arbitration handed Albania the victory — leaving the Serbians on minus two points.

In May, Radovan Curcic (who only lasted 18 months after succeeding Dick Advocaat) was replaced by 63-year-old Slavoljub Muslin.

The former Red Star Belgrade coach, who had spells managing in France, Morocco, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belgium, Russia, Belarus and Cyprus, bluntly told the players they needed to take the lion’s share of blame for missing out on three successive major tournaments.

He also promised to instil passion back in the squad and stated that he was confident of qualifying for Russia 2018.

Muslin has enjoyed a reasonable start to his first international job thus far, with two wins and a draw from three outings, although they’ve all been friendlies. Victories over Cyprus (2-1) and Israel (3-1) were followed up by a 1-1 scoreline against Russia days before the start of Euro 2016.

Newcastle United’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Tadic of Southampton and captain Branislav Ivanovic all got on the scoresheet during those games and the trio make up the spine of the team with Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic and Man City’s Aleksandar Kolarov.

Other notable players in the squad include CSKA Moscow winger Zoran Tosic (formerly of Manchester United) and Liverpool pair Marko Grujic and Lazar Markovic.

Albania Serbia Euro Appeal A fight that broke out on the pitch between Serbian fans and Albanian national team players in October 2014. Source: AP/Press Association Images

And while Kolarov and Matic are unavailable to face Ireland due to suspension, they can call up a raft of talented young players as Serbia won the U20 World Cup in New Zealand just over a year ago — defeating Brazil in the final 2-1 after extra time.

Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel-Aviv), Nemanja Maksimovic (Astana) and Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica) played key roles in that triumph and they have since made the step up to senior level.

One of the manager’s biggest tasks will be to get the right balance in knitting this new generation with the established names.

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Ben Blake

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