Given that most of the headlines were reserved for France’s failure to qualify automatically for the 2010 World Cup, the reason Raymond Domenech’s side did not occupy top spot in their group seemed to go under the radar.
Yet it was largely down to the splendid form of Radomir Antic’s Serbia side, who finished a point ahead of the French after leading for much of the campaign.
For a man famed for coaching entertaining Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid sides, Antic has gone against his attacking instincts and instead set up this Serbian side to play to their undoubted defensive strengths.
Manchester United man-mountain Nemanja Vidic lies at the base of the team’s spine, and he forms a central defensive unit with Udinese’s Aleksandar Lukovic. Full backs Aleksandar Kolarov of Lazio and Chelsea’s in-form Branislav Ivanovic complete a back four that few attackers will fancy coming up against.
Add to that captain and Inter midfielder Dejan Stankovic’s holding role just in front of them, and it’s no wonder Serbia haven’t conceded a goal in 360 minutes of football, following friendly wins over Northern Ireland, South Korea, Algeria and Japan.
But, importantly, they also have plenty of options in attack, even if it’s not always pretty to watch. Valencia’s Nikola Zigic, at six foot seven inches tall, forms the focal point to most moves, with Ajax’s 16-goal striker Marko Pantelic playing off him.
Liverpool-bound Milan Jovanovic and CSKA Moscow’s Champions League star Milos Krasic are the men deployed wide with the job of feeding the front men, and it all forms a very traditional 4-4-2 set up with everyone having a clear idea of their responsibilities in the team.
It’s why Antic and Serbia will be confident of progressing from the group. And given their performances in qualifying, they also look geared up for a good go at Germany too, so don’t discount top spot. Fabio Capello will certainly not be relishing a potential encounter with them in the knockout stages.