In some 150 days, South Africa and Mexico will take to the field for the opening match at the 19th FIFA World Cup™. Five months before the greatest show in sport kicks off on 11 June, a wave of anticipation is already sweeping planet football. "I’ve never played at the World Cup, but it has to be the greatest achievement of a career in the game," Nemanja Vidic exclusively told FIFA.com.
For the Serbia centre-back, who plays his club football for English giants Manchester United, the 2010 finals in South Africa promise to bring his first-ever appearance at a major tournament: he was in the Serbia and Montenegro squad at Germany 2006 but failed to get off the bench.
"I was banned for the first match after a sending off in the last game before the tournament," the 28-year-old recalled. Rubbing salt into the wound, he picked up an injury at a pre-finals training camp and missed his side’s two remaining group fixtures.
We have a handful of players who were at the 2006 World Cup. I think we’ll be better prepared than we were four years ago.
"That’s why I’m so pleased we’ve managed to qualify again. I hope nothing stops me playing this time and that I can contribute to the team doing better than in 2006," Vidic continued.
In Germany four years ago, the amalgamated Serbia and Montenegro team – both were sovereign states by the time of the tournament but qualified and competed as a single entity – sank without trace in a fiercely tough group, losing 1-0 to the Netherlands, 6-0 to Argentina and 3-2 to Côte d’Ivoire.
The Serbs are determined to perform with more credit this time round, although Vidic is fully aware of the severity of the task in a section also including UEFA EURO 2008 runners-up Germany, Ghana, and Australia.
"There are no easy opponents at a World Cup. Every team has good players, and they all deserve to be there. It won’t be easy, but we have a good feeling and believe we’ll give a decent account of ourselves,” Vidic stated.
And the player feels the team can only benefit from the expertise and nous offered by coach Radomir Antic. "He’s coached some great teams and has loads of experience," said Vidic on the 61-year-old supremo, whose CV includes spells in charge at Spanish giants Barcelona, Real Madrid and city rivals Atletico.
"He’s brought in a few new ideas and places a lot of stress on discipline and organisation. He’s definitely played a large part in our development as a team." Indeed, in qualifying for South Africa, Serbia comfortably won their group and consigned 2006 runners-up France to a play-off spot.
"We have a handful of players who were at the 2006 World Cup. I think we’ll be better prepared than we were four years ago," said Vidic.
"But everything depends on the first match, that’ll be our most important game at the World Cup. A win would give us an excellent chance of reaching the next round, and it would boost our confidence for what comes after that.”
However, Vidic intends to focus on club matters with United for the second half of the season. For all the keen sense of anticipation, he is not spending too much time contemplating South Africa just yet. "I’m taking each game as it comes at the moment, and just trying to stay focused on that."
And as the interview concluded, the rugged defender confessed to a subconscious fear of missing out again with injury, but is simply trying to blot out the unwelcome thoughts. "The more you think about the World Cup and trying not to get injured, the greater the risk you’ll get hurt, in my opinion."