Slavoljub Muslin takes charge of his first competitive game tonight, and the Serbia coach is determined to open with a positive start, promising to set his team out to win their opening encounter with Ireland.

There is no doubt that this Serbia side have been under-achieving in recent years, failing to qualify for any of the last three major tournaments, but there is quality running through the squad and Muslin (below) will be confident of reaching Russia for the 2018 World Cup.

But the new coach must plan for the game without two of his most influential players as both Nemanja Matic and Aleksandar Kolarov are ruled out through suspension.

Muslin’s Irish counterpart Martin O’Neill was in a similar situation at the start of the last campaign and the former Red Star Belgrade coach will naturally need time to gel his squad into a side capable of getting out of this evenly matched group.

So here’s a look at the probable Serbia starting XI:

Predrag Rajkovic

The 20-year-old keeper looks set to become the Serbia number one for the foreseeable future, taking over from the very experienced Vladimir Stojkovic. The Maccabi Tel Aviv player captained the Serbia Under-20 side to World Cup glory in 2015 and impressed throughout, being named goalkeeper of the tournament. At 6ft 3in, Rajkovic offers a commanding presence in the box and is a very good shot stopper, but Ireland can capitalise on his lack of experience at this level should he get off to a shaky start.

Branislav Ivanovic

The Chelsea stalwart will captain the Serbia side and looks set to line up in a defensive three. Ivanovic said before the game that Ireland will be the toughest side to beat in the group, emphasising the threat of Shane Long and Jonathan Walters. The captain will have his defence well prepared for a Premier League style battle with the Irish front men but will also be keen to get forward and threaten from set pieces.

Stefan Mitrovic

The Ghent centre-half will play in the middle of the three in defence, flanked by Ivanovic on the right and Slobodan Rajokovic on the left. Mitrovic has become best known for his role in the abandoned game with Albania in the last qualifying campaign as he pulled down the Greater Albania banner that was being flown by a drone. The game was subsequently abandoned and Albania were eventually awarded a 3-0 victory. Mitrovic is another who will relish the competitive battle with the Irish, but Shane Long’s pace can trouble him.

Slobodan Rajkovic

Another towering centre-back, Rajkovic will play on the left side of the three-man defence and will be expecting a tough night at the office trying to keep Walters under wraps. Rajkovic plays his football in Italy with Palermo but has yet to fulfil the potential that saw him move to Chelsea back in 2007, where his four years with the London club failed to see him make a senior appearance.

Filip Mladenovic

The natural left-back is likely to line out in a wing-back role on the left side of a four-man midfield. The FC Koln man should have his hands full all evening, keeping watch on the attacking runs of the Ireland right-back. But former the former BATE Borisov man is relatively inexperienced at international level with only four caps since making his first appearance back in 2012.

Antonio Rukavina

The experienced right-back will play in more of a wing-back role. Rukavina was a member of the Serbia squad that qualified for the World Cup in 2010, and now plays in the Spanish league with Villarreal. Rukavina is well used to playing in either midfield or defence and will add an attacking dimension when Serbia are going forward.

Ljubomir Fejsa

A lot will be asked of the Benfica midfielder in the absence of Nemanja Matic. Fejsa will sit in front of the back three alongside Nemanja Maksimovic and will be looking to negate the Irish threat of Jeff Hendrick and possibly Harry Arter coming through the middle of the park.

Nemanja Maksimovic

One of Serbia’s up-and-coming stars, Maksimovic grabbed the winner in the final of the Under-20 World Cup to beat Brazil. Maksimovic is a very good attacking midfield player but his game may be contained somewhat tonight without the influential Matic covering in midfield. Very inexperienced at this level and Ireland will hope that this game proves a step too soon for the Astana midfielder.

Filip Kostic

The Hamburg man may just get the nod ahead of Zoran Tosic on the left side of a front three for Serbia. As well as delivering from wide, Kostic is capable of drifting inside and threatening the goal. Similarly, should Tosic play, the CSKA man brings a wealth of experience and offers an extra dimension with his set-piece ability.

Dusan Tadic

The Southampton man should start on the right side of the attacking three and enjoys a good goalscoring record for his country. Often criticised for his lack of consistency, Tadic will need to impress tonight as Liverpool’s Lazar Markovic, who has just moved on loan to Sporting in Lisbon, will be waiting in the wings.

Aleksandar Mitrovic

The feisty centre forward should start tonight, despite not featuring for Newcastle United in their opening five league games of the season. The in-your-face striker started the season with a four-match ban to serve, before picking up a concussion in their League Cup game, which ruled him out of their last league outing.

Mitrovic will prove a real handful for the Irish centre-halves and can show moments of brilliance aside from his aggressive style. Aleksandar Pavlovic could yet get the nod if the coach feels Mitrovic is not match fit. The Copenhagen striker has only two caps for his country but has shown good form of late with his Danish club.