FILE - In this March 27, 2018 file photo, Serbia defender Branislav Ivanovic during the international friendly soccer match between Serbia and Nigeria at The Hive Stadium in London. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

Ivanovic poised to set record for Serbia at World Cup

June 16, 2018 - 10:08 am
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SAMARA, Russia (AP) — Serbia's World Cup opener against Costa Rica on Sunday will have added significance for Branislav Ivanovic.

A win would be nice, but the 34-year-old defender and former Chelsea player could make his record 104th appearance for the national team, surpassing Dejan Stankovic.

"He is one of the leaders of this team for over the past 10 years. We are all happy for him and hopefully he will be able to set a record that no one else can break because he fully deserves it," Serbian team captain Aleksander Kolarov said the day before the match.

Stankovic, known as "Deki," played for the national team from 1998-2013, through three different eras: Yugoslavia, Serbia-Montenegro and finally Serbia. Ivanovic matched Stankovic 's record of 103 caps last Saturday in a 5-1 exhibition win over Bolivia.

Serbia, ranked No. 34 in the world, is set to play the Ticos at Samara Stadium. The teams are in a tough group with five-time World Cup champion Brazil, and Switzerland, which is ranked No. 6 in the world.

The match marks a return to the World Cup for the Serbians, who didn't make the field in Brazil. Ivanovic was on Serbia's 2010 roster in South Africa, but the Eagles didn't make it out of the group stage.

Coach Mladen Krstajic, who replaced Slavoljub Muslin last year, has put together a veteran defense with Ivanovic and Kolarov, who plays for Roma. Also included in Serbia's squad are Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic, and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who had an apparent falling out with Muslin but was brought to Russia by Krstajic.

Krstajic wouldn't reveal his lineup for the match against the Ticos. If Ivanovic plays, FIFA's rules prevent him from being honored in the match, but the national team intends to give him a memento to mark the occasion.

Ivanovic currently plays for Zenit Saint Petersburg in Russia, but he's best known for his time at Chelsea (2008-2017). He scored 22 goals for the Premier League club, second among defenders to John Terry.

During Ivanovic's tenure, Chelsea won three Premier league titles, three FA Cups and a Champions League title, among other honors. Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho praised Ivanovic following a 2015 League Cup semifinal victory over Liverpool in which the defender scored the lone goal with a header in extra time — after playing the match with a boot full of blood from a cut on his foot.

In a match in 2013, Liverpool forward Luis Suarez famously bit Ivanovic on the arm, drawing a 10-match suspension.

Ivanovic has "achieved as a football player quite a lot," coach Krstajic said of his veteran defender. "He's demonstrated his quality in clubs across Europe and has many titles to his names. He's another extra quality for us and a motivation to give more. We want to make his day tomorrow better."

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