Sports Mole previews Sunday’s Euro Champ Qualifying clash between Serbia and Bulgaria, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.
Knowing a point would be enough to secure their spot at Euro 2024, Serbia tackle rock-bottom Bulgaria in Sunday’s Group G finale.
The Eagles can even seal a top-two place with defeat at Stadion Dubocica, should Montenegro fail to beat group leaders Hungary.
Bidding to reach the European Championship finals for the first time since parting ways with Montenegro – following four failed attempts – Serbia sit second in Group G of the current qualifying process and are within touching distance of booking a place in Germany next summer.
With 13 points on the board from seven matches, Dragan Stojkovic‘s side only trail already-qualified Hungary in the standings, but still need a point to be sure of progress after their Montenegrin rivals beat Lithuania in midweek.
Last month’s crucial 3-1 win over the Brave Falcons put Serbia in the driving seat, as an Aleksandar Mitrovic brace and Dusan Tadic‘s 77th-minute strike not only secured victory but also opened up a five-point gap between the two neighbouring nations.
As a result, the Eagles also boast a better head-to-head record versus their bitter foes from across the border, so they are strong favourites to claim a top-two finish – particularly with Montenegro facing a tough test against Hungary in Budapest.
As group winners in the most recent UEFA Nations League, Serbia are guaranteed at least a place in the upcoming playoffs, but with qualification in their own hands they will be keen to finish the job on home soil this weekend.
Stojkovic and co prepared for the task by visiting Belgium for a friendly on Wednesday, which they lost 1-0, but after a much-changed side succumbed in Brussels, Sunday’s hosts will be back at full tilt against Bulgaria.
Picking up one of just three points gleaned from their Group G campaign to date, Bulgaria came within moments of upsetting Serbia in June’s reverse fixture, but Darko Lazovic levelled the scores deep into stoppage time and salvaged a 1-1 draw for the away side.
Indeed, Ilian Iliev‘s squad have gone without winning through the process so far, and they only have one more chance to put that right before wrapping up another failed qualification campaign.
Iliev took charge after the Bulgarian Football Union parted company with Mladen Krstajic last month, following a nine-game winless run, and is sharing his time between coaching the national team and continuing his role as Cherno More manager.
Bulgaria have not appeared at a major tournament since 2004, and it had long been known that would not change this time around before they played their penultimate Euro 2024 qualifier in Sofia, where an eventful clash with Hungary was played behind closed doors amid violent protests outside.
Spas Delev hauled the Lions level after they had fallen behind early on, and Kiril Despodov‘s second-half spot-kick seemed set to earn them a 2-1 victory; however, Hungary struck again in the seventh minute of stoppage time, when an Aleks Petkov own goal saw the spoils shared.
Serbia Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Serbia form (all competitions):
Bulgaria Euro Champ Qualifying form:
Bulgaria form (all competitions):
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Serbia named an unfamiliar starting XI against Belgium in midweek, but with a point still required to confirm direct qualification from Group G, they will revert to full strength on Sunday afternoon.
Dragan Stojkovic is without midfield maestro Sergej Milinkovic-Savic due to injury, but the latter’s Al-Hilal teammate Aleksandar Mitrovic, his brother Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, and captain Dusan Tadic should all be promoted from the bench.
The Eagles’ all-time leading scorer – with 57 goals at international level – Mitrovic has also netted 17 times in as many appearances for his new club so far this season; therefore, Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic is set to make way.
Meanwhile, Darko Lazovic – who scored Serbia’s late equaliser in Razgrad earlier this year – was among several players cut from the hosts’ preliminary squad last week.
Bulgaria must make do without suspended defender Valentin Antov, following his first-half dismissal against Hungary on Thursday night.
Cherno More centre-back Zhivko Atanasov – coached by Ilian Iliev in domestic football – is most likely to deputise at the heart of the visitors’ back line.
Starting on the right of a probable front three, captain Kiril Despodov is the Lions’ leading scorer in Euro 2024 qualification with two goals, and the PAOK forward’s overall international tally of 11 is more than twice that of any other active Bulgaria player.
Serbia possible starting lineup:
V. Milinkovic-Savic; Milenkovic, Veljkovic, Pavlovic; Zivkovic, Gudelj, Lukic, Kostic; Djuricic, Tadic; Mitrovic
Bulgaria possible starting lineup:
Naumov; Popov, Atanasov, Petkov, Nedyalkov; Gruev, Chochev, Krastev; Despodov, Delev, Ivanov
We say: Serbia 3-1 Bulgaria
There is a significant gulf in class between these two teams, albeit Serbia needed a last-gasp leveller to avoid defeat in Bulgaria. Set to confirm their trip to Germany in style, the home side should certainly score more than once in Leskovac, given the depth of attacking talent available to them.
For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.
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