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European Shield Game 3 Preview: Serbia v Italy

- enters the 2012-13 European Shield on Saturday, in an eagerly anticipated match in the Makis Stadium, Belgrade against Serbia.
European Shield Game 3 Preview: Serbia v Italy
by NRL

- enters the 2012-13 European Shield on Saturday, in an eagerly anticipated match in the Makis Stadium, Belgrade against Serbia.

The two countries have met twice before with Italy coming out on top on both occasions, in the 2009 European Cup and last year's 2013 World Cup qualifier, although the Serbs were left feeling hard done to.

In Wales, in the European Cup ranking play-off, the Serbians felt aggrieved about alleged improprieties in the Italian squad, while last year, in the run up to Italy's visit to Serbia, tensions between the Federazione Italiana Rugby League and the Serbian Rugby League Federation reached close to breaking point.

The proud nations have never met in the Shield though - a competition that each has won twice and neither has entered without taking the silverware. Added to the mix, the Serbians are desperate for a victory after their shock one point defeat to Germany in May, while the visitors, coached by Paul Broadbent, are beginning their World Cup preparations.

"Although the time together has been short it's gone very well, with the energy and enthusiasm shining through," said Broadbent, the former Great Britain front rower. "These are exiting times in Italy with lots of new blood coming into the sport which will only add momentum and strength. It will also be good to see some of our non-domestic players that didn't get a lead role last year stepping into the leadership positions that have been handed to them."

Accomplished Cavaillon half-back Remi Fontana is likely to be a key force and he is joined by three more French Elite players in a squad dominated by the Italian champions, XIII del Ducato from Piacenza. Brescia's Fabrizio Ciaurro and Cedric Prizzon of Villefranche both played in the Azzurri's World Cup campaign while a late blow saw another of the qualification veterans, Bradford-based Jonathon Marcinczak, withdraw from the squad on Thursday following passport difficulties. He is replaced by Stefano Cardella.

"We are all buzzing about the challenge," continued Broadbent. "We know that Serbia will be tough; they have a number of young players that have come through their system which speaks volumes for their structures there."

His counterpart, Marko Jankovic, has made four changes to the 20-man squad chosen for the recent clash with Germany in Heidelberg. In comes Milan Culnjara who, along with his brother Ivan, fellow Dorcol Spider Dalibor Vukanovic and Serbian captain Zoran Pesic, faced Italy in 2009. Hemel's former Manly product, aggressive prop Ilija Radan, joins the squad while Podbara's Dario Milosavljevic is recalled for the first time since 2008.

Jankovic was quick to sum up the importance of the match: "We need to win this very important game and must use our home ground advantage and the support of the domestic crowd in what is sure to be a very hard and competitive match". And a hot one. Forecasts predict the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury poised to reach up to 35 degrees.

Lazar Zivkovic, Milo Zogoviae (Car Lazar), Mirko Boloviae, Danilo Delic, Stefan Nedeljkoviae, Stefan Nikoliae, Stevan Stevanoviae, Ivan Culnjara, Milan Susnjara, Nika Unkoviae, Dalibor Vukanoviae (Doraeol), Ilija Radan (Hemel Stag), Dario Milosavljevic (Podbara), Milo AEaliae, Vojislav Dediae, Vladica Nikoliae, Zlatko Peiae, Zoran Peiae (capt.), Velibor Sreaekoviae, Nebojia Rivanoviae (Red Star Belgrade)

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