Serbia return to the European Championship stage after a 24-year wait, but they won’t be at Euro 2024 just to make up the numbers.

After 24 long years and five failed European Championship qualifying campaigns, Serbia make their return for the first time since 2000. Back then, their current coach, Dragan Stojkovic, played in all three group games and the team crashed out with a quarter-final mauling at the hands of the Netherlands, losing 6-1.

To put their wait into greater perspective, six Serbia players who made at least one appearance in Euro 2024 qualifying weren’t even born when their country last participated in a European Championship (Strahinja Erakovic, Ivan Ilic, Strahinja Pavlovic, Lazar Samardzic, Stefan Mitrovic and Petar Ratkov).

Having finished second in their qualifying group alongside Hungary, Montenegro, Lithuania and Bulgaria, earning just four wins and 14 points from their eight games, it’s fair to say expectations heading into this summer aren’t as high as they were before the 2022 World Cup.

Back then, Serbia had been magnificent in qualifying, finishing ahead of Portugal in their group and beating them in their final group game thanks to a last-gasp winner from Aleksandar Mitrovic in Lisbon.

But they didn’t live up to expectations in Qatar and crashed out in the group stage with just one point from three games.

Fast forward to today, and Serbia have won just two of their last six competitive games, with those wins coming against Lithuania (3-1) and Montenegro (3-1). In that time they have also lost twice to Hungary and drawn twice with Bulgaria, who finished bottom of their qualifying group. As a result, criticism of Stojkovic has grown louder.

The biggest concern heading into the Euros remains in defence. Serbia managed just two clean sheets in their eight qualifiers, and have now registered just five in 25 competitive games under Stojkovic, who took over in March 2021.

Over the course of his reign, Serbia have faced an average of 9.2 shots and 1.0 xG per game, and that includes plenty of games against teams that the public expect them to beat comfortably.

Serbia xGA map

However, there is some light provided by the strength of the Serbian attack, with players like Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic, Dusan Tadic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic all heading into the summer in top form. Serbia have scored in each of their last 10 competitive games, and have only failed to do so twice in their 25 games under Stojkovic – in June 2022 against Norway in the Nations League (1-0) and in November 2022 at the World Cup against Brazil (2-0).

In the Euro 2024 qualifiers, Serbia were one of only six countries to score in every game, alongside France, Belgium, Austria, Portugal and England, who they’ll face in their opening game on 16 June.

The aerial approach has brought them a lot of success in front of goal. Serbia had more headed shots than any other team in qualifying (37) and scored five headed goals – only Portugal and Spain netted more (7). In fact, 36% of Serbia’s goals in qualifying were headers (excluding own goals); overall in Euro 2024 qualifying, just 17% of goals were headers.

Serbia Shot Locations

There is one man who every Serb will look towards for inspiration in attack, and that’s Mitrovic. The former Fulham and Newcastle man has scored 58 goals in 91 appearances for the national team, and with those numbers it should come as no surprise that he is the leading scorer in the history of Serbian football. The 29-year-old shone in qualifying for Euro 2024, scoring five goals in seven appearances, including a hat-trick against Lithuania.

Mitrovic is Serbia’s go-to guy; somebody who is always there for the team and, crucially, can score even when he isn’t playing well. He swapped London for Saudi Arabia last summer but still seems capable of performing at international level: under Stojkovic, Mitrovic has 21 goals in 23 competitive appearances, with the majority of his goals headers (52%).


A quality striker like Mitrovic needs players who are able to create chances, and Tadic is the man he will often look to. The 35-year-old will most likely be playing in his last big tournament this summer, and will be more eager than ever to remind the world what a magician he is.

The former Ajax midfielder spent this season in the Turkish Süper Lig at Fenerbahce, and was one of the team’s key players alongside Edin Dzeko, Cengiz Ünder and Sebastian Szymanski.

In Euro 2024 qualifying, Tadic picked up four assists in eight games and created 31 chances for his teammates. His rate of 3.9 chances created per game was the best of all players to make more than one appearance in the qualifiers, with only Bruno Fernandes (37) creating more chances overall albeit in two more games. Tadic ended the campaign with six goal involvements in eight games – the joint-most of any Serbian along with Mitrovic.

Tadic recently became the most capped player in the history of the Serbian national team (108 games), overtaking the record previously held by former Chelsea man Branislav Ivanovic (105 games). He has been key for Stojkovic, playing in all 25 competitive games under him and racking up 20 goal involvements (four goals, 16 assists), further underlining his role as one of the leaders in this squad.

Tadic goal involvements under_Stojkovic

One player who brings a bit of hope to the defence is Red Bull Salzburg centre-back Pavlovic, a 23-year-old who already has plenty of experience in the national team.

He already has 35 caps to his name since making his debut in September 2020, as well as four goals, including one at the last World Cup.

In qualifying, Pavlovic won 67% of his duels and boasted an average of 98 touches per 90 minutes – the most of any Serbian in the qualification group – indicating how important his role is in his side’s build-up.

The young central defender had the highest carry distance of all Serbian players, covering 1.7 kilometres with the ball at his feet, and a total of 154 carries in his 540 minutes on the pitch.

On average, Pavlovic recorded 26 carries per 90 minutes in the qualifiers – with only four defenders who played at least 500 minutes bettering this tally (Josko Gvardiol, Manuel Akanji, Andreas Christensen and Nico Elvedi).

Pavlovic Carries for Serbia

His determination and commitment in every situation regardless of the opponent reminds the supporters of one of the greatest centre-backs who has ever lived, Nemanja Vidic. Just like the former Manchester United defender, Pavlovic is willing to put his head where other players wouldn’t even dare to put their feet.

Serbia won’t be the strongest team at the Euros this summer, but with 14 of the 26 players in their squad playing club football in one of the top five European leagues, there is no question that they have plenty of quality in their ranks.

According to Opta’s prediction model, Serbia are most likely to finish third in Group C, with a probability of 32.6%, while they finish bottom in 31.2% of simulations.

However, with a 56.2% chance of qualifying for the last 16, they stand a decent chance of making it out of the group.

Euro 2024 Group C Predictions

What’s more, there is something about Serbs and Serbian sportspeople that is hard to explain; whenever they are overlooked, when the odds aren‘t in their favour, or even when they have whole crowds against them, they perform best. Tennis legend Novak Djokovic has proved as such numerous times throughout his career and the national team have done so in recent times, too, most notably against Portugal in Lisbon in 2021 and against Norway in October 2020.

So, the odds might not be in Serbia’s favour this time, but that certainly doesn’t mean they should be written off at Euro 2024.

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