The Big Match Tactical View: Serbia v Belgium

Set-pieces will play a big part here - Sinisa Mihajlovic will wish he was on the pitch to take them himself
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It's a clash between first and second in Group A - Michael Cox wonders where the goals will come from.

This could be a cagey match
Back the draw at [3.35]

Serbia v Belgium, Friday 7:30, Betfair Live Video.

Match Odds: Serbia [2.68], Belgium [2.98], The Draw [3.35].

These are two sides at a similar stage in their development. Neither Belgium nor Serbia qualified for Euro 2012 despite a decent squad of established players to choose from, and under a young coach ho recalls playing in major tournaments with great distinction, it's time for Sinisa Mihajlovic and Marc Wilmots to bring back the (relative) glory days.

Belgium have been tipped as pretty much everyone's dark horse for World Cup 2014 - they were once backed at [240.0] and are now in at [38.0], which sums up their ascent into a good international side. But while they have a number of star names plying their trade in the Premier League and Europe's other top divisions, Belgium are yet to gel as a unit. They lack players in certain positions, and they're more impressive when looking at a squad list than actually watching them play.

A major concern is the lack of good full-backs. With right-back Guillaume Gillet suspended and set to be replaced by Toby Alderweireld, the Belgian defensive line is set to be composed of four centre-backs - Alderweireld, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen. All are comfortable on the ball, but Belgium will lack genuine thrust from the flanks.

In fact, there will probably only be one naturally attacking full-back on the pitch - Aleksandar Kolarov. He had one of his finest games in a Manchester City shirt last week against Sunderland, and I expect him to be a considerable attacking force here. Serbia's right-back is Branislav Ivanovic, who lacks finesse on the ball but does have a good understanding with the right-winger Zoran Tosic.

Still, seven out of the eight defenders on the pitch will be centre-backs, so expect a tight match and for set-pieces to play a big part. My worry here is where goals will come from in open play. Belgium's second major problem is the lack of a regular goalscorer upfront - as the central striker, they've tried Kevin Mirallas (better coming in from wide), Christian Benteke (unproved at international or Premier League level) and Romelu Lukaku (injured).

It's Mirallas who would provide pace and runs into the channels, while Benteke would hold the ball up. The key attacking player is unquestionably Eden Hazard, although it remains to be seen where he'll play - he could be used on either flank, or just behind the main striker..

Serbia, meanwhile, are likely to field Filip Djuricic alone upfront - he's a promising young attacker, but is he a striker? For Heerenveen he seems more like a second striker or even an advanced midfielder. As a young, slender player, I think he'll struggle in a physical match and against Belgium's intimidating backline.

Belgium should be able to gain control of the midfield battle, too. Axel Witsel and Moussa Dembele is the probable combination in the centre of the pitch - expect the former to sit in the centre and play patient passes out wide, and the latter to dribble directly towards goal. Serbia's midfield duo is likely to be much more defensive and less technically astute, and I think they'll largely leave the attacking to the front four.

This should be a low-scoring game, but I'm not too tempted by Under 2.5 goals as low as [1.7]. Instead, I'll look to back 'No' in 'Both Sides to score' at Evens or better.

I think these are two well-matched sides - Belgium are more technically proficient, but this is cancelled out by Serbia's home advantage. The draw looks more likely than the odds of [3.35] would suggest.

Recommended bets:
Back 'no' in both sides to score at [2.0]
Back the draw at [3.35]

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