Even the most optimistic of Serbia and Scotland supporters are unlikely to be scheduling flights to Brazil for June 2014. With five matches played, both nations' qualification dreams lie in tatters. Coaches Gordon Strachan and Sinisa Mihajlovic, who both featured in World Cups during successful playing careers, have no hope of repeating the achievement as managers next year.
Scotland's wait for a place at a major finals stretches back to the 1998 World Cup, but they have been close returning to tournament football in recent years, with Berti Vogts' disastrous turn of the century tenure long consigned to memory. Euro 2012 presented as good an opportunity as any, but Michal Kadlec's controversial last-minute penalty for the Czech Republic at Hampden Park salvaged a draw and ultimately prevented Scotland from reaching the play-offs.
A dreadful start to the current qualifying campaign saw World Cup hopes extinguished early on; as successive draws with Serbia and Macedonia were followed by successive defeats to Wales and Belgium, leading to the sacking of Craig Levein in November.
Strachan has made minimal changes since his appointment, although Chris Burke and Ross McCormack have been welcomed back from the international wilderness, and he has struggled to rebuild the players' confidence – evident in an unconvincing friendly victory over Luxembourg and last Friday's slump against Wales, who outpassed and outclassed the Scots at Hampden.
"The players are a wee bit embarrassed." Strachan said ahead of the Serbia clash. "When you watch it again, and I have, something is not right. At the time, I thought: 'This is international football'. But even watching it again, I thought to myself: 'It was worse than I thought.'
"People did things which were very strange and we need to get to the bottom of that… There's passing, but some of the things you saw then couldn't be described as passing. It was just complete madness, crazy."
Strachan has stressed that he is ready for a "test of character" in Serbia, but it could be more of a character assassination should the mistakes evident against Wales reappear.
Mihajlovic's side will be primed to take advantage. Although they have generally struggled for goals in what has been a torrid campaign, an anomaly came in a 6-1 home demolition of Wales, when they demonstrated a ruthlessness that has been notably absent from their other matches.
With just four points on the board, Serbia's only other positive result was a 0-0 draw away to Scotland in the reverse fixture in September, and defeats to Group A pacesetters Belgium and Croatia sandwiched, most gallingly, a 1-0 loss to Macedonia.
The retirements of Dejan Stankovic and Nemanja Vidic in the past 18 months have left a real void in on-pitch leadership, something that must be a source of particular frustration for a man like Mihajlovic, who embodied spirit and tenacity - and a large sprinkling of tempestuousness - in his playing days.
He has tried to stir patriotism but has also been accused of flirting openly with Inter Milan, for whom he has hardly auditioned himself well during the qualifying campaign. He is on thin ice, and defeat to a Scotland side torn apart by injuries, suspension and rock-bottom morale in a snowy Novi Sad will almost certainly see it crumble beneath him.
Serbia player to watch: Zoran Tosic. When Manchester United swooped to sign Tosic and team-mate Adem Llajic in January 2009, big things were expected of the pair. Neither was able to make the grade at Old Trafford, but both have flourished since leaving United. Tosic now plies his trade with CSKA Moscow and has established a reputation as a set-piece specialist whose sweet left foot is a real asset. Fleet-footed, nimble and not afraid to shoot from distance, the winger - who can play on either flank, as well as in a central attacking midfield role - will need close attention.
Scotland player to watch: Shaun Maloney. Was a key creative outlet when playing in a central position against Wales, dropping deep to receive the ball and influence the game, but he drifted wide after Robert Snodgrass's dismissal and then drifted out of the game. The Wigan attacker is a tricky customer whose fearless running has been the scourge of Premier League teams all season and, should Serbia be caught with too many men forward, he will be a useful player to engineer the sort of counter-attacking football he is used to playing week in, week out with Wigan.
Key Battle: Alan Hutton v Aleksandar Kolarov. Having been spared the task of marking Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in successive games after the latter was used centrally at Hampden Park, Hutton faces a less esteemed, but undeniably dangerous, opponent on Tuesday. The Real Mallorca right-back - rejuvenated after moving on loan from Aston Villa, where he described himself as "wasting away" - will have his hands full as Serbia's favoured 3-5-2 formation is likely to see him face a twin left-wing assault from Manchester City wing-back Kolarov and the more advanced Tosic. Struggling to win the battle for left-back supremacy at Eastlands with Gael Clichy, Kolarov nonetheless offers his national team a strong attacking presence on the overlap and his pinpoint deliveries will see him rival Tosic for set-piece duties, too.
Trivia: Fiorentina's Adem Ljajic has been cast from the Serbia squad since refusing to sign a code of conduct introduced by Mihajlovic that said players must sing the national anthem before every game. Ljajic said personal reasons were behind his decision.
Stats: Scotland have kept just one clean sheet in their past 11 internationals, but have only failed to score in one of the last eight.
Odds: Scotland are underdogs at 6.50 with bet365, but Serbia at 1.61 doesn't seem to appealing, with the draw at 4.00 looking more promising. A 1-1 draw is priced at 7.50.
Prediction: Serbia certainly have the quality to find a much-needed result, but Scotland will be prepared for a battle and a draw could be secured in difficult conditions.
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