A file photo of Chelsea's Serbian defender Branislav Ivanovic. (Getty Images)
Belgrade: The Serbians have nothing to lose when they visit bitter Balkan rivals Croatia in a World Cup Group A qualifier on March 22 and raucous fan support can only put pressure on the home side, Serbia right back Branislav Ivanovic said.
The Chelsea defender is one of Serbia's most experienced players and will captain his country in a charged atmosphere at Dinamo Zagreb's Maksimir stadium, with regional pride as well as three points at stake in the race to qualify for next year's finals in Brazil.
"The standings show that a draw would be of no benefit to us because we need to win if we are to keep alive any hopes of advancing," Ivanovic told Belgrade daily Sportski Zurnal. "But we will be under no pressure at all because no one expects us to come away with anything from the cauldron of that stadium and a raucous atmosphere can, in fact, only be a burden to Croatia's players.
"Once the game starts, we will have only the ball and the opposition on the pitch in mind; they are the ones who will have to deal with the high expectations," he said.
Croatia top the group alongside Belgium with 10 points from four games, followed by Serbia and Macedonia who have four points from as many games.
Serbia and Croatia have never played each other as independent nations, but the rump Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, then comprising Serbia and Montenegro, reached Euro 2000 at Croatia's expense after a 2-2 draw in their final qualifying group match at the same venue.
Next week's fixture will be played under tight security, although fears of crowd trouble have been allayed after both federations agreed not to take away fans to the game and the reverse encounter on September 6 in Belgrade.