Serbian frailties cruelly exposed by Argentina
GELSENKIRCHEN, June 17: Something must have gone badly wrong for a team which let in one goal in 10 unbeaten qualifying matches to concede six in a single World Cup game.
For Serbia&Montenegro, everything did go awry to produce a 6-0 hammering yesterday by a scintillating Argentina side who cruelly exposed the frailty of a defence many had considered almost impregnable.
The defeat has left the Serbian team in disarray and only pride left to play for in their final Group C match against also eliminated Ivory Coast in Munich yesterday.
The Serbs lost their composure before the finals even kicked off, when manager Ilija Petkovic's son abandoned the team over a nepotism row that triggered an avalanche of media criticism.
Then Petkovic made a glaring tactical error in the 1-0 opening defeat to Netherlands by replacing suspended Nemanja Vidic with Nenad Djordjevic, who was torn apart by Arjen Robben.
The final blow came when defensive pillar Vidic, due to return for the Argentina clash, picked up a knee injury in training that ruled him out for the rest of the tournament.
The floodgates opened after only six minutes and as Serbia's midfielder Albert Nadj said after the match, the score in no way flattered the Argentines.
Dejan Stankovic was also not prepared to honey-coat an apparent lack of fighting spirit.
''We have brought shame on our football and country. Nothing we do from now on will wash away this disgraceful performance and our heaviest World Cup defeat,'' he said.
''Life goes on and there is nothing we can do now but save face in our final group match against Ivory Coast.'' Football Association chief Tomislav Karadzic said the fiasco required a thorough analysis and, if necessary, rebuilding a team outclassed by top level opposition.
''We are not in the same bracket as Argentina but this is unacceptable. We must analyse thoroughly what went wrong and make wholesale changes if we have to,'' he told reporters.
Although Petkovic admitted to a poor performance, he did not hesitate once again to blame the press for ''putting too much pressure on the team'' to get through a difficult group.
''We were under heavy pressure before this game and the media are at fault for demanding an attacking formation against a rival of Argentina's quality,'' he said.
''I backed down and abandoned the principles and strategy I had stuck with for 20 years as a coach. A negative atmosphere was created and it put paid to our hopes.'' Hailed by the media as a national hero after taking Serbia to the World Cup finals, Petkovic will almost certainly step down with his contract expiring after the tournament that he will remember for all the wrong reasons.