x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Germany a tall order for Serbs' giant striker Zigic

The World Cup's tallest striker needs to perform in his biggest test for his country in Port Elizabeth today.

Nikola Zigic towers over Ghana's Anthony Annan.
Nikola Zigic towers over Ghana's Anthony Annan.

The World Cup's tallest striker needs to perform in his biggest test for his country in Port Elizabeth today. Like his teammates, Serbia's 6ft 7ins forward Nikola Zigic failed to find the net in their disappointing opening game defeat to Ghana. Now they face a German side rated by many as the most impressive in the tournament so far, with Serbia needing at least a point if they are to stand any hope of qualifying for the second stage for the first time as an independent nation.

"We need to forget about Ghana and go for it in the remaining two matches," said Zigic, who recently left Valencia for Birmingham City. "We won't be going for four points but for all six, although there are some permutations where a draw and a win would suffice for us." Zigic is aware of the strength of the opposition. "Germany were excellent against Australia but they had a one-man advantage for the entirety of the second half," he said. "It's all up to us right now and we have to believe we can qualify for the second round. We need to remain composed. We need to be careful and wait for our opportunity to come. We still believe in ourselves but the mistakes we made against Ghana cannot happen against Germany."

Zigic's words will seem hollow if Serbia fail and they repeat the poor form which marred their last World Cup performance (as Serbia and Montenegro) four years ago. Then, the strongly fancied side lost all three games and finished bottom of their group. A 6-0 defeat by Argentina was humiliating for a team who had qualified so strongly. "There were many bad moments during that game," says Zigic. "I am trying to forget it. It's hard though because people keep reminding us of it."

Serbia were equally impressive in qualifying this time after finishing top of a group which included France and Romania, whom they hammered 5-0 in Belgrade and beat 3-2 in Bucharest. Drawn from a population of just 7.4 million, Serbia have a talented squad who play their club football across Europe's top leagues. Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic is one such player, as is Inter Milan's Dejan Stankovic, their captain, who faces an intriguing battle for midfield supremacy with Mesut Ozil, Germany's new star. Radomir Antic, the Serbia coach, is also hugely experienced, having been in charge of Barcelona and both Madrid giants.

Zigic, a regular for his country since 2005 and the three-time Serbian player of the year, started more qualifying games than any other Serb striker, utilising his height to great effect. "My height is certainly an advantage but also a disadvantage," he says. "It suits me to receive balls from the side or through the centre in the air, rather than the ball at my feet. I can beat smaller players in the air all the time. The disadvantage is that I'm not as fast as some of the players who have a burst of pace. Smaller players react quicker than me and I prefer to play against taller players."

Zigic claims that the team's strength is their unity, but Serbs are hoping his height will help derail the Germans as well. sports@thenational.ae Watch Germany v Serbia (3.30pm), Slovenia v US (6pm) and England v Algeria (10.30pm) all on Aljazeera Sport +9 and Aljazeera World Cup