Unlike in the past, this Serbia team have no expectations on them – and it may prove beneficial

Dusan Vlahovic carries Filip Mladenovic as Serbia celebrate their Euro 2024 qualification after a draw with Bulgaria. Photograph: Pedja Milosavljevic/SIPA/Shutterstock

This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2024 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 14 June.


No, this article wasn’t penned during a session on a sofa with a psychotherapist – even though Serbia fans might be ripe for therapy after each and every major tournament. Everything about Serbia’s national team has been more about psychology than football for decades.

Only this time, it might be in Serbia’s favour. This is the first time the team heads to a major tournament without any expectations. After memorably beating Portugal in Lisbon to finish the World Cup qualifiers in 2021, everything took a downward turn. Serbia squandered a 3-1 lead against Cameroon in the group stage in Qatar, and they haven’t regained their confidence since.

Once brimming with optimism and the belief that Serbia could beat any team in the world, the coach, Dragan Stojkovic, has lost the fans’ trust. The qualifiers for this tournament were very poor, but Serbia managed to squeeze through because they were in what was surely one of the weakest qualification groups ever. A good number of players have moved to lower-tier clubs, and their form is fluctuating. Historically, Serbia have not coped well under pressure. Now, with absolutely no expectations, they might shine.

Stojkovic is unconcerned with tactics, and his style is always highly attacking – Serbia can concede goals to anyone at any time. However, he argues that they can also score more goals than anyone. Spoiler alert: Serbia can’t actually really do that.

After the match against Bulgaria, where Serbia scraped into these Euros with a 2-2 draw at home against the side who finished bottom of the group, Stojkovic reminded everyone of some previous harrowing episodes. “Remember how bad it was against Scotland in the playoff for the last European Championship. These guys have shown incredible mentality, and that’s what’s needed to qualify for major tournaments,” Stojkovic said.

Another spoiler: no, Serbia has never demonstrated consistent team mental strength.

The Serbian media wrote that Stojkovic’s position as coach was in jeopardy, especially when the former Manchester United great Nemanja Vidic publicly criticised him over his salary. Stojkovic had a response: “I’ve earned all of it.”

Advancing beyond the group stage would be a sufficient argument for the Serbian public to support his claim.