BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia qualified for the World Cup with an unfamiliar 3-4-3 formation and need to come up with an alternative as well as injecting fresh blood for next year’s finals, caretaker coach Mladen Krstajic said on Monday.
The former Yugoslavia defender, an assistant to Slavoljub Muslin who was axed last week after steering Serbia to their first major finals in eight years, also revealed he was at loggerheads with his former boss over team selection.
Muslin refused to include Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and several other talented players who Krstajic named in a 24-man squad to face China and South Korea in friendlies on Friday and next Tuesday respectively.
“We will switch to a 4-3-3 in the upcoming friendlies in order to construct a plan B and an alternative to the 3-4-3 which saw us qualify for the World Cup,” Krstajic told a news conference in Serbia’s Stara Pazova training headquarters.
“The young and upcoming players in the squad are Serbia’s future and they will get a chance to prove their worth as well as to show what they can bring into the World Cup roster.
“These lads will soon be the team’s backbone so the rebuilding starts now.
“In my opinion, Milinkovic-Savic’s performances at Lazio and Serbia’s 2015 World-Cup winning Under-21 side have shown that he fully deserves to be here.
“Whether Muslin and I argued about his inclusion in the squad is an internal matter but I can say we haven’t spoken since we parted ways.”
Serbia reached the 32-team World Cup in Russia by winning Group D ahead of Ireland and Wales, having rode their luck in many of the key games as the results somewhat flattered their unconvincing performances.
Captain Branislav Ivanovic, one of the ageing stalwarts who was fairly inconsistent during the campaign, conceded that Serbia had plenty of work to do although he indicated that the players were divided on Muslin’s sacking.
“It’s always difficult to get a uniform position from the players on such a matter, but I can’t thank Muslin enough for what he has done for this team and me personally,” said the former Chelsea defender who now plays for Zenit St Petersburg.
“Playing eye-catching football is one thing but getting results is another. I have been here for a long time and there were precious few games where winning and entertaining went hand in hand.
“We have to improve in many departments if we are to make any impact at the World Cup.
“The finals are a lot different from the qualifiers because three group stage games inside a week or so (at the tournament) require vast energy levels and most of all a different mindset. This is where we have failed in the past.”
Serbia made a group stage exit at the 2010 finals in South Africa in their only appearance at a major tournament as an independent nation, having lost to Australia and Ghana while beating Germany.
They featured as Serbia and Montenegro in the 2006 finals in Germany, where they lost all three group stage games.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ken Ferris