Sports News of Sunday, 13 June 2010
Serbia are approaching their first World Cup Finals match as an independent nation in confident mood after putting behind them a build-up that contained some worrying results.
A 1-0 humiliation at the hands of South Africa 2010 minnows New Zealand was followed by a goalless draw with Poland, but captain Dejan Stankovic insists they are back on track after a 4-3 win over Cameroon when they twice trailed. He said: "I'm sorry we lost the match against New Zealand, but after great work in Austria our legs were heavy and we were tired. After that came Poland, which was a little better, but maybe we didn't look so great on the pitch - and last of all Cameroon, which I think was a beautiful game to watch. It was the cherry on the cake."
The Cameroon match did not do much for the Serbians' reputation for defensive solidity, but defender Aleksandar Lukovic has promised that Radomir Antic's side will tighten up for the Group D opener in Pretoria, where they are likely to welcome back centre-back Nemanja Vidic, who missed the last two friendlies through illness.
"We didn't lose any confidence against Cameroon - our defence remains one of the strongest parts of our game," said Lukovic. "We were maybe a bit naive in conceding three goals, but it was only a farewell match before we went to the World Cup. I truly believe everything will be fine for our first game against Ghana."
Ghana are marginally more experienced than Serbia, with South Africa 2010 being only their second Finals after their 2006 debut, where they made the last 16, but they are the youngest squad at the tournament.
The loss of midfield lynchpin Michael Essien to injury clinched that landmark, but he was also absent at the Africa Cup of Nations earlier this year, when Milovan Rajevac's side finished runners-up.
Then they relied on some of the players who helped Ghana win the Under-20 World Cup last year, but in South Africa they will be strengthened by the return of Sulley Muntari and Stephen Appiah, plus the introduction of German-born Kevin-Prince Boateng after his recent naturalisation.
However, Appiah, Ghana's captain, knows the Black Stars face a difficult group. "Everyone is talking about Germany and Australia, but let me tell you I am scared of Serbia because they are aggressive and technically they are good," he said.