There is little doubt that Nikola Zigic is one of Serbia's key players going into the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. At 2.02m, he cuts an imposing figure but any opponent who thinks the towering striker only presents an aerial threat is in for a surprise. Indeed, Birmingham City’s new signing is also technically gifted and a fine finisher.
Zigic is eager to use these qualities to help Serbia thrive on the big stage. The Beli Orlovi go into the competition in a rich vein of form after finishing first in their qualifying group ahead of Germany 2006 runners-up France.
“When the draw (for the qualifiers) was made, nobody thought of us as favourites, not even ourselves,” Zigic told FIFA.com. “At the start we thought we’d be playing for second place, but then we started winning games and we just grew in confidence. This was key and we never lost our rhythm."
In the subsequent Final Draw for South Africa 2010, the Balkan side were handed another stiff test in the shape of Group D rivals Germany, Ghana and Australia. Nevertheless, Zigic is optimistic about his team’s chances: “We believe we are capable of qualifying from this group. We know it won’t be easy and we face some tough opponents, but we want to continue our form from qualifying and show that we can take on any team in the world.”
One of the main reasons for Zigic’s optimism is the experience he acquired representing Serbia and Montenegro at Germany 2006, although that tournament does not bring back fond memories. “It was a shame, we arrived there with a very strong defence but then a few players got injured and we ended up conceding a lot of goals," said the former Valencia player.
"There were also a couple of other incidents that I’d rather not remember, but this is a different tournament, a different team and things are going to be different this time, for sure.”
A further reason for this confidence is Zigic’s own personal development. A squad player in 2006, this time around he is one of the team’s biggest stars. “I have changed a lot," he said. "I went to Germany as player with no reputation or real experience to speak of.
"Tactically, I have learned a lot and I’m in much better condition, both physically and psychologically. This is my World Cup, I think I can play a lead role and I want to show I’m a player that can do it in big games.”
One of the objectives for Serbia is to surpass the achievements of France 1998, when as part of the former Yugoslavia they reached the Round of 16. “Maybe this team is more physical and less technically gifted," said Zigic.
"But this is to do with what the coach asks of us and the characteristics of the players. I don’t know what that '98 team were like as I only saw them on television, but they played really nice football. Now we have a very strong group, we’re very united and this could be our most important weapon.”
As the interview drew to a close, Zigic touched on one of the most important features of Serbian football: character. Is this a help or a hindrance in major competitions? “Both. It’s an advantage and a disadvantage, because it allows us to achieve great things but it can also be our failing in that it causes us to make mistakes.
"We rush ourselves into acting without thinking and lose our perspective. I’m a perfect example, myself. I like to achieve the targets I set for myself. When I think of something I have to make it reality and nobody can stop me. I’m really single-minded."