Serbia won’t ease off against Switzerland at World Cup
KALININGRAD, Russia (AP) — Aleksandar Kolarov knows that after victory in its opening World Cup match his Serbia lineup cannot ease off the intensity against Switzerland.
Two draws in its remaining matches could be enough to secure a spot in the round of 16 but with Brazil waiting in its last Group E game, beating the Swiss would take the pressure off Mladen Krstajic’s team.
“If we do the math and start playing for a draw then it will not be successful,” Kolarov said. “Of course we want to win.”
The Serbia captain’s precisely placed free kick in the 56th minute was the only goal in Serbia’s victory over Costa Rica. Krstajic wants his forwards to step up another level against Switzerland on Friday.
Krstajic appears to be keeping faith in striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who scored six goals in Serbia’s World Cup qualification campaign but couldn’t find the target against Costa Rica.
“I know his qualities, everybody knows his qualities,” the coach said. “He lacked luck to score (against Costa Rica) but we are keeping him there for the forthcoming games.”
Mitrovic is unlikely to have an easy day against a Switzerland defense and midfield that held Brazil to a 1-1 draw in its opening match.
Steven Zuber’s powerful second-half header equalized for Switzerland after Philippe Coutinho’s curling shot had given Brazil the lead.
One of the keys to Switzerland’s success was midfielder Valon Behrami, whose tough tackling and marking of Neymar canceled out the threat of the world’s most expensive player for most of the match against Brazil. He was eventually replaced because of a thigh muscle strain in the 70th minute.
Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic was relieved when tests showed no serious injury to Behrami, who became the first Swiss player to appear at four World Cups when he started against Brazil.
Behrami did not train with his teammates Tuesday, but is expected to be fit to resume his duties against Serbia.
“We need him in the next couple of matches,” said Petkovic.
Behrami grew up in what is now Kosovo, moving to Switzerland with his family in 1990 amid rising tensions between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. He has the flags of Switzerland and Kosovo tattooed on his left arm.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade doesn’t recognize the split and is seeking to maintain influence in Kosovo’s north, where most of the country’s Serb minority lives.
Behrami is not the only Swiss player with links to Kosovo. Among others, Stoke City winger Xherdan Shaqiri and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka can trace their roots back to Kosovo.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Serbia is seeking to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 1998, when it was known as Yugoslavia. The team did not make it out of the group stage in 2006 or 2010 and did not qualify for Brazil four years ago.
Serbs have played at the World Cup in several different guises in the past, reflecting the country’s turbulent history as part of the former Yugoslavia and an independent state following that country’s disintegration in the 1990s.
In 2006, it was Serbia and Montenegro, in 1998 Serbs reached the round of 16 in the Yugoslavia team, while Croatia, a former part of Yugoslav teams, reached the semifinals. Prior to that, a Yugoslavia team made up of all the Communist country’s former nationalities played at World Cups. Before World War II, a Kingdom of Yugoslavia team played one World Cup, finishing fourth in 1930.
SWISS DREAM TEAM
Behrami had a fan in the stands at the team’s opening match who knows a thing or two about representing Switzerland in Russia.
Behrami’s girlfriend, Lara Gut, posted a photo on Instagram of the pair hugging after Switzerland held Brazil to a draw.
Alpine skier Gut won a bronze medal in the downhill at the Winter Olympics in Sochi four years ago.
Serbia’s last four victories at the World Cup have a familiar ring to them: each time it was 1-0.