As in the Croatian game, Serbian football is traditionally characterised by pace, technique, and skill in counter-attacks. And above all fighting for your country. The Serbian squad is slightly younger and on the rise. Serbian football is the other major portion of what we normally call Balkan football. Even if it might be more accurately referred to as Yugoslavian or X-Yugoslavian football.
Where do the Serbians play?
Same as the Croatians, the Serbs play one in each of many different European clubs. The difference might be that where Croatia has Champions League final starters, then most Serbs play in mid-level clubs in Italy, England, and Germany. About half the starting line-up for Serbia might have played in a European club competition this season. This means Serbia (like Croatia) play a game also greatly inspired by the European clubs their players are based in.
Three members of the squad play at home in Serbia. Two for Red Star Belgrade, one for Partizan. Unlike the Croatian league, the Serbian to a degree stabilised, but Red Star Belgrade is today nothing like 25-30 years ago. Back then they were on top of Europe winning the precursor to the Champions League in 1991. Yugoslavia was truly one of the great football nations of Europe before the war. Today Red Star and Partizan Belgrade cannot keep their star players. There is not enough money in Serbian football. Even if both Belgrade teams got through from their Europa League group this season, then Champions League success seems impossible. Serbia and Serbian football will likely never have, what they had as Yugoslavia.
Political influence and national narrative
Serbia was the core of Yugoslavia. After the death of Second World War partisan leader and later president, Tito, the country slowly deteriorated into ethnic conflict and eventually civil war. Nationalists in the republics had had enough of the Yugoslavia. They create a situation where people had to choose sides, ethnic cleansing was rampant on all sides, and eventually there was no room for moderation or peace. The state had completely imploded on itself.
Serbian football on the club level might have recovered better than Croatia, but the Serbian national team never reached anything close to the former glory. Serbs simple need Yugoslavia, more than the Croats needed it. Both in football and in politics.
Serbia is also infamous for their many rivals. The only country in contemporary times to suffer the aggression of other European states. NATO and their members are not popular in Serbia for Operation Allied Force in 1999 to force the departure of the Yugoslavian (at the time including only Serbia and Montenegro) military from Kosovo. A conflict which also souring relations with Albania, who the Serbs think lured the West into a war of aggression to eventually steal Serbian territory. The collapse of Yugoslavia also meant there is a varying degree of hatred with all the other former republics.
Serbia think everyone is an enemy, and at times that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But this understanding of the world comes from bitter lessons of history. The Serbian narrative is one long list of betrayals, valiant fight leading to bitter defeat, and Serbia standing alone against the world. Serbian are not afraid of anyone, and will go into any match thinking that they will win it.
Group and expectations
First Serbia face Costa Rica. In qualification, Costa Rica only lost away to Mexico, who finished top, and Panama away after Costa Rica was already qualified. They destroyed the US 4-0 at home. Costa Rica is impossible to evaluate in advance. They got the results they needed, when it mattered. Otherwise it seem like a team that should lose all 3 group games in Russia. They could be the surprise nobody expects, just like 4 years ago, when coming out of nowhere to reach the quarter final. This game can go either way. Serbia is the favourites, and it will be a national insult in the eyes of their fans, if Serbia does not demolish Costa Rica. But honestly this is not going to be as easy as most might think.
Second game is against Switzerland. If Costa Rica does not surprise, then this game should be the final for who finishes second in the group. Likely a draw between teams of equal value and skill. It will be a physical game, where the fight is on. Especially because the Swizz are a country of immigrants. Their stars are Kosovar, there are a couple of Croats, a Bosniak, and a Macedonian. As much as half the Swizz starting line-up might be people, who have little love for Serbia, and would do something special to beat them. Expect fireworks and a physical game.
Finally, Brazil. Brazil is always the favourite to win the World Cup, and you cannot expect to beat them. You can try, but Serbia should hope to be through at this point. If Brazil have won two games, and are through then some reserves might well get a a chance. Something which would make it easier for Serbia. Hopefully for Serbia both team win their first two games in the group, and are already though. So Brazil-Serbia would simply be a placing match about who plays in what game in the round of 16. But if Serbia is not through, and Brazil is, then Serbia has the benefit of facing a Brazil already thinking about the ro16.
Brazil has shown weakness in qualification, they can be beaten. Group E could be completely open. If Brazil are playing as they should, then they win the group. For second place there is no clear favourite. Therefore, the tournament is going to be a battle in every single game. If Serbia gets through from the group, then it is unlikely that they get much further, but anything is possible. Especially with the Serbian mentality.