Manuel Veth –
After years of preparation, the first UEFA Nations League tournament will commence next week. Time for us to look ahead as we preview Serbia’s League C, Group 4.
UEFA’s 55 members will compete in several groups dispersed over four leagues to determine the next champion of Europe. Moreover, the tournament has been incorporated into the EURO 2020 qualification process, and with everything to play for, these teams will seek to impress their international audience as they watch them compete in this competition.
Following the announcement of their squads, Lithuania, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia will look to qualify for Euro2020, as well as being promoted to League B. How might these teams fare?
League C, Group 4 Breakdown:
Founded in 1923 the Lithuanian Football Federation was in hiatus from 1940 until 1990 when the country was part of the Soviet Union. Regaining its independence in 1990, the LFF never qualified for a major tournament, however.
Furthermore, Lithuania never finished higher than third during a European Championship qualification cycle. That performance was achieved in the qualification process of the 1996 European Championships that took place in England.
Lithuania finished fifth, ahead of last-placed Malta, in the FIFA World Cup qualification collecting just six points. Coached by Edgaras Jankauskas, a journeyman striker, who played all over Europe and even in Major League Soccer, Lithuania have a relatively inexperienced side made up of players plying their trade in Lithuania, Serbia, the post-Soviet space and Israel.
Player to Watch – Fedor Černych (Dinamo Moscow)
Captain Fedor Černych (also known as Chernykh) is the leader of the side. The 27-year-old Dinamo Moscow striker was born in Moscow to Lithuanian parents. Brought through the FK Granitas youth setup in his native Lithuania Černych has played in Belarus and Poland before joining Dinamo Moscow in January 2018.
Until 2006 the Hrabri sokoli competed together with Serbia as Serbia and Montenegro. Following independence that year, however, Montenegro were recognized too late by FIFA to take part in 2008 European Championship qualifying. Instead, the small Adriatic country began their first competitive campaign in 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying finishing second last in their group.
Montenegro then came close to qualify for the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Finishing second behind England in Group G Montenegro were eliminated by the Czech Republic at the playoff stage, however.
It was the closest Montenegro ever came to qualify for a major tournament. Two third-place finishes in the last two World Cup qualification campaigns and a fourth-place finish in the 2016 European Championship qualification campaign means that the former-Yugoslavian republic is still awaiting its first appearance at the biggest stage.
Coached Ljubiša Tumbaković the UEFA Nations League could now be the passage the country has been looking for. Winning their League would be enough to play at the European wide 2020 Euros.
Player to Watch – Stefan Savič (Atletico Madrid)
It is hard to look beyond vice-captain Stefan Savić when looking at the biggest star of this side. The central defender plays a significant role for his club team in both La Liga but also European club competitions. The 27-year-old is a natural leader both on and off the field for the Hrabri sokoli.
In the 1990s Romania had a golden generation. The country recently freed from communist rule produced some of the best talents in Europe.
The transition years away from communism, however, were not kind to the nation that borders between the Carpathian Mountains and the Balkans.
Qualifying for the European Championships in 2008 and 2016 Romania never made it past the group stage. Furthermore, the Tricolorii have not reached a World Cup since 1998.
The significant problems of the country is the youth development system. Many of the top clubs, including Steaua, have been in financial disarray making it difficult for the country to come up with cohesive youth policy.
With this in mind head coach, Cosmin Contra now has the difficult task to guide Romania through this group and possibly use the UEFA Nations League to qualify for the 2020 Euros, which will be partly hosted by the country with some of the games taking place in Romania’s capital Bucharest.
Player to Watch – Alexandru Maxim (1.FSV Mainz 05)
Alexandru Maxim is a bit of an eternal talent. A gifted playmaker the Mainz midfielder always had the talent to become an international star. But at Stuttgart and now at Mainz, he has struggled to make his mark on the Bundesliga. Nonetheless, Maxim is a wonderful player to watch, who when on form can dazzle the crowds with fantastic passes, dribbles and goals.
Serbia are the only team in this group to have taken part at the World Cup last summer.
Drawn in a group with Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica the Beli orlovi (White Eagles) finished third despite having an excellent start. A 1-0 victory against Costa Rica, however, was followed up with a 1-2 defeat to Switzerland and a 0-2 loss to Brazil.
Against both Switzerland and Brazil Serbia were competitive, however. In a match overshadowed by controversy Switzerland only defeated Serbia with a last minute goal scored by Xherdan Shaqiri.
Then on matchday 3, Serbia did well against Brazil, but ultimately the Seleção proved to be too much for the Beli orlovi as Serbia crashed out of the World Cup. Despite the World Cup result head coach Mladen Krstajić got the vote of confidence by the Football Association of Serbia to continue his rebuild and guide Serbia to Euro 2020 and promotion to League C.
Player to Watch – Sergej Milinković-Savić (Lazio)
Sergej Milinković-Savić was one of the most sought-after prospects on the transfer market last summer. The midfielder can dominate a game, and there were expectations that the Serbian national team player would join a big club like Juventus in the summer transfer market. But with Juventus opting to sign Cristiano Ronaldo, there was no room left at Juve to bring in a player like Milinković-Savić, who ultimately opted to stay at Lazio.
League C, Group 4 Predictions:
Serbia – Group 1 winners, promoted to League C
Romania and Montenegro – Retain their place in League C
Lithuania – Relegated to League D
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.