As fans of a club side, the international break can mean two things: missing watching your team play and worrying about your players picking up injuries.
Fiorentina have four players in the Serbia national squad, and one of those has already been ruled out through injury. Matija Nastasić didn’t even make it to the match-day squad, after picking up a calf injury during training. Serbia’s manager, Dragan Stojković, confirmed that the player would return to Florence.
An injury at any time would be bad news, but with Vincenzo Italiano already without the central pairing of Lucas Martínez Quarta and Nikola Milenković through suspension for the game with Milan, he may now have to plan again if Nastasić fails to recover. Igor is, for now, the only central defender left in the senior squad.
With his international players away on duty, Italiano has already been trying out Lorenzo Venuti alongside Igor in training. Other possible options are Sofyan Amrabat and Erick Pulgar, who both have past experience of playing in that role. Both players are also away on international duty, and Pulgar has missed our last four games through injury. Filippo Frison and Lorenzo Lucchesi have been performing well of late for the Primavera, and one of these could get a call up to the senior squad. The Bulgarian Dimo Krastev is another young player who has experience in that position.
As for the rest of our Serbian players, Milenković, Aleksa Terzić and Dušan Vlahović all started on the bench in last nights friendly game with Qatar in Belgrade. With all eyes on Sunday’s crunch tie with Portugal, it wasn’t a full-strength Serbian side which started the game. At the start of the second half, and with Serbia 1-0 up, both Vlahović and Terzić made their entrance, along with Sergej Milinković-Savić. The Lazio player was lining up for the first time ever in the national side alongside his brother, Torino goalkeeper Vanja.
Dušan didn’t waste much time in making his mark on the game. After just eight minutes, and Serbia now 2-0 up, he found himself with just the keeper to beat with the Qatar defenders more interested in claiming offside, and he made no mistake. With seven minutes left in the game, Vlahović then set up Milinković-Savić to wrap the game up, 4-0 to Serbia.
Milenković was left on the bench for this one, but no doubt he will be involved from the start in the next game, as the Serbian defence will attempt to keep Cristiano Ronaldo quiet. The Republic of Ireland managed to do just that last night in Dublin, as their group game with Portugal ended in a scoreless draw. One player who won’t be involved in Sunday’s game is Pepe, after receiving his marching orders in the last ten minutes of the game for a second bookable offence. Ronaldo did manage to endear himself to the home fans after the final whistle. A young girl raced onto the pitch to embrace the Portuguese star, and was rewarded with his jersey for her efforts.
Cristiano Ronaldo gives his shirt to a young emotional fan who invades the pitch at full-time pic.twitter.com/mvLorZttPP— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 11, 2021
It all comes down to Sunday night’s game in Lisbon to decide who claims top spot in Group A to take the one automatic qualifying place available for next year’s World Cup. With Portugal and Serbia level on points, Portugal’s better goal difference means that a draw would be good enough for them to go through. So it will be up to Serbia to go and win this, and they will need both Dušan’s goal threat up front and Nikola’s strength at the back if they are to have any chance. If not, they will need to go through the play-off route for a second chance of qualification.
Vlahović has already scored seven international goals in his 13 caps for Serbia, and so far this season, he has bagged ten in total for Fiorentina and five for Serbia. Milenković has also scored twice for Serbia in September, and has previously scored against Portugal, that goal came in a 4-2 defeat in the last Euro qualifying campaign.
When the two sides met in Belgrade back in March, the game ended in a 2-2 draw. Serbia came back from two Diogo Jota first half goals, but both Nikola and Dušan will be hoping for better luck this time out. Dušan was replaced at half time in that game and Nikola was sent-off in injury time. Let’s hope Sunday’s game goes well for our Serbian internationals, and we really could do without any more injury worries!