A few days ago, Serbian U-20 manager, Veljko Paunovic released the roster that he will be taking to New Zealand for the U-20 World Cup, which will be held from May 30th-June 20th. Serbia is taking part in the event for the first time since 1987 (under the name Yugoslavia) which they coincidentally won that year.
Paunovic’s list is as follows:
GOALKEEPERS: Predrag Rajkovic (Red Star), Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (Vojvodina), Filip Manojlovic (Red Star)
DEFENDERS: Milan Gajic, Nemanja Antonov (Both OFK Beograd), Milos Veljkovic (Tottenham), Srdjan Babic, Radovan Pankov (Both Vojvodina), Stefan Milosevic (Spartak), Vukasin Jovanovic (Red Star), Miladin Stevanovic (Partizan).
MIDFIELDERS: Sasa Zdjelar (OFK Beograd), Nemanja Maksimovic (Astana), Mijat Gacinovic (Vojvodina), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Genk), Marko Grujic (Red Star), Filip Jankovic (Catania), Andrija Zivkovic (Partizan)
ATTACKERS: Ivan Saponjic (Partizan), Stanisa Mandic (Cukaricki), Stefan Ilic (Spartak)
One of the best young goalies in the world, Rajkovic will be in net for Serbia. Rajkovic was injured in Red Star’s match two weeks ago, but he is fine and will be the team’s number one keeper. Milinkovic-Savic’s will be the team’s back-up goalie. The 18 year old started 17 matches for Vojvodina and managed six clean sheets.
Gajic has been great for OFK this season and I fully expect him to have a starter’s role on this team, whether it is in the backline, or playing as a defensive midfielder. Jovanovic finished off the season starting most of the matches for Red Star and I would think that he will be used as much as possible in New Zealand. It will be interesting to see what happens with Veljkovic, as he was loaned out to Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic, but only managed to rack up six appearances. Antonov and Babic have been two of the better defenders in the Serbian league and if they have a good showing during this tournament, it could be their ticket to a bigger league and better club.
The Serbian midfielders will have to play a key role in Serbia winning any matches because this is where most of the talented players are to be found. Gacinovic, for the second year running, has been one of the best goal scorers/creative midfielders in the Serbian league. Grujic is slowly developing into a defensive midfielder; however, his passing needs some serious work before he can be an efficient contributor to this team. Zivkovic is very quick and will without a doubt create plenty of problems for opposing defenders. Milinkovic-Savic is a big body, who has recently been getting plenty of playing time for his Belgian side, Genk. One of the biggest surprises on this team could be former Red Star academy player, Filip Jankovic, who has only played about 350 minutes for his Serie B side, Catania, but Paunovic decided to bring him on with all the injuries that the team has suffered. Zdjelar is an excellent defensive midfielder, who possesses much better passing than Grujic, so I expect Zdjelar to be the starter at the position, depending on the formation that Serbia chooses to play. Maksimovic is the captain of the team and has shown that he can score goals from his attacking midfielder position.
Up front is where I start to get a bit worried. Apart from Saponjic, the other two strikers do not get much playing time for their respective teams. Ilic has featured in 19 league matches and has yet to score, while Mandic has racked up 17 appearances and has only one goal to show for it. Unlike Mandic, Ilic has started most of the games in the second half of the season, but he does not have much to show for it, probably because his team plays very defensive football. That being said, Saponjic is still only 17 year olds and trying to carry this team could be too much for the youngster, which is why I expect the attacking midfielders to do most of the scoring (Zivkovic, Maksimovic and Gacinovic).
It is very tough for me to tell you what my expectations are, simply because I have never seen the other three teams in Serbia’s group play-Mexico, Uruguay and Mali. However, getting out of the group stage is a must. These kids have worked very hard just to make it here, and it would be a shame to not see them advance. After the group stage, anything can happen.
May 31st-vs Uruguay
June 3rd-vs Mali
June 6th-vs Mexico
Projected starting XI (4-1-4-1)
Ogi is a graduate of Humber College’s Sport Management program. He is the founder of Blago Blogger Sports.