‘Serbia test will be tougher than Poland’
The Super Eagles defeated Argentina 4-2 in their first international after the World Cup qualifiers in Krasnodar, Russia in November, and only on Friday beat Poland 1-0 in Wroclaw.
Nigeria has had a good FIFA free period, which has helped Coach Gernot Rohr to train with the bulk of the players expected to make the Russia 2018 train for close to one week.
The only omissions are Skipper Mikel John Obi, who is trying to renew his work permit in China, and the injured Oghenekaro Etebo.
Although Serbia is ranked 37th lower than Nigeria’s two previous opponents, Argentina, which is fourth, and the number sixth rated Poland, the team is seen as currently more organised and more dangerous than the duo.
The bulk of the European team’s players have been together since the qualifiers started, with some of the youngsters, who are champions of the 2015 U-20 World Cup, already integrated in the squad.
Today at the Barnet Stadium, London, Coach Mladen Krstajic is expected to pick at least three from among Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Andrija Zivkovic, Milos Veljkovic and Nemanja Maksimovic in the line up to face Nigeria.
Since the Serbians won the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand, most of the players have gone on to join big European clubs.
Krstajic has been alternating the players in his build up to the World Cup, where the Serbians as part of Yugoslavia finished in fourth position in 1930 and 1962.
Twenty-two year-old Milinkovic-Savic won the Adidas bronze ball in New Zealand before completing a €9 million move to Lazio in the wake of the tournament. He has since gone on to become one of Europe’s most sought-after midfielders.
Tall, powerful, brave in the tackle and composed on the ball, the six feet four inches youngster has earned the nickname ‘Sergente’ in Italian Serie A and has been linked to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, and Paris Saint-Germain.
Andrija Zivkovic is a 21-year-old winger, who at 17 was made the national team’s youngest ever player by Serbia legend, Sinisa Mihajlovic. He also made history with his club too, becoming the youngest captain in Partizan Belgrade’s history.
Zivkovic now plays for Portuguese giants, Benfica and has since gone from strength to strength.
There is also Marko Grujic, who was snapped up by Liverpool after New Zealand 2015. He is seen as part of Liverpool’s future but the lad risks missing from the Russia 2018 party due to poor club term.
In the same boat with Grujic is Milos Veljkovic, who came through the ranks at Tottenham Hotspur. Veljkovic, a centre-half, who can also operate as a defensive midfielder, is now a regular for Bundesliga side, Werder Bremen.
Of all the members of the 2015 class, 23-year-old Nemanja Maksimovic is one of the sure bets for a place in the Russia train.
He is not a regular for Spain’s Valencia, but back home he is seen as one of the major components of the Serbian army.
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