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Sports Features Thu, 3 Jun 2010

Opponents Watch: Serbia

"As many of you saw from my tweets, I watched the Serbia - Poland game yesterday to get a sense of who the Serbs are. The game ended 0-0 and if you ask me, the Poles looked the more prepared team and they are not even going to the world cup. They clearly have used their downtime wisely. Both teams had chances to score and were probably affected by the pouring rain which made the turf slippery. The tackles came in hard and fast and I cannot imagine any player escaping without bruises.

That said, I have to say this is my first time watching the Serbs and they looked as solid as you can in a friendly game totally impacted by the elements. In a way, they play like a typically Eastern European team. They don't do anything too flashy and are efficient. You don't think they are outplaying you but let your guard down and before you know it they are 2-0 up. Given the weather, take the following with tiny, tiny amount of Ada Songhor Lagoon salt.

Defensively, the Serbs cede the flanks and play a compact defense. The speed of Poland on the wings bothered them and caused some anxious moments for Coach Radomir "Raddy" Antic's men. They play compact so that there is no way to go through the middle of their defense. Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic did not play in this game and I imagine they will have fewer nervous moments when he is in. Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic was resolute as a central defender in the first half but more dynamic in the second when he shifted to his more usual right back role. He launched some fluid attacks down the right flank and those who have seen him play for Chelsea know that any striker worth his salt would die to be at the end of his crosses.

Attacking-wise, the Serbs' strategy seems to be to catch you on the break with swift counter attacks. With Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic playing more of a creative central midfield role than at his club, they have the man to spring the forwards whenever their opponents lose the ball. A couple of times when the Poles were careless in possession in the center of the pitch the Serbs broke and outnumbered the Polish defenders. The Ghanaian defenders would do well to practice their four v three and three v two defending because the Serbs are coming. Also the Ghanaian midfielder must be even more aware of where he is on the pitch when he takes risks. For instance, dilly dallying on the half way line and losing the ball will play into the Serbs' hands.

While the Serbs seem more advanced than Ghana in their preparations, I did not see anything to suggest they would overwhelm us if we develop a modicum of cohesion.

Men to Watch:

Nikola Zigic- Even though he was rooted on the bench for many games, his scoring ratio is impressive. The tall and lanky forward stands at and his height could be a big problem for Ghana especially if Ivanovic is allowed to bomb down the flanks

Dejan Stankovic- At Inter Milan, he is a bench player but Serbia's Captain is accurate in his passing and disciplined in his defending. He is not afraid to put in one or two tough challenges a game. He also has a deadly shot and defenders will be wise not to back off too much when he lines up to shoot.

Branislav Ivanovic- Those who watch the English premier league often enough know what a competitor this guy is. He is rarely beaten defensively and gives any team he is on that added attacking option.

Nemanja Vidic- Need I say more? Game in and game out he has been one of the best defenders in the Premier league. He brings tenacity, toughness and is rock-solid at the back. Asamoah Gyan will have to dig deep and use some guile to get past this fella.

Stay tuned. Ghana vs Serbia, June 13, 14:00 GMT."

Fui Tsikata is a Blogger/ Aspiring documentary film maker based in Accra who has followed Ghana's national team since he could say "Black Stars".

blackstarsfan.com is his blog site.

Source: Tsikata, Fui