BELGRADE (Reuters) - Defender Nemanja Vidic, the backbone of Serbia's World Cup challenge, has a score to settle in South Africa after suspension and injury meant he saw no action in the side's impotent foray of 2006.

Widely regarded as one of the best center-backs in the game, Manchester United's Vidic saw no action in Germany four years ago due to suspension and injury but this time around he is key to their chances of progress from a tough group.

Although he deputizes as captain, with the armband currently held by Serbia's most capped player Dejan Stankovic, the 28-year-old Vidic is the team's most influential player with his commanding presence and the ability to unsettle any opposition.

A long list of individual honors includes the Serbian Player of the Year Award in 2005 and 2008 and the Premier League player of the season in 2008-09. His aerial power at both ends of the pitch and tough tackling has proved vital for both club and country over the years.

The physical, old-fashioned defender also reads the game well and has an excellent positioning instinct, which has made him one of the most dreaded rivals for any striker.

Asked by Serbian media shortly after winning the Champions League whether the success had fulfilled his childhood dream, Vidic said: "I fulfilled my dream when I scored for Red Star as the team's captain against Partizan in the Belgrade derby, everything else is business."

After winning the domestic league and cup double with Red Star in 2004, Vidic had two impressive seasons at Spartak Moscow before his January 2006 move to Manchester United, where he quickly became a regular starter under Alex Ferguson.

His partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the center of United's defense has proved vital for the club's impressive run from 2007-2009, while he has been equally influential for his country since he broke into the former Yugoslavia's first team in 2002.

Vidic was in the Serbia & Montenegro 2006 World Cup squad but played no part in the former country's fiasco in the tournament, missing all three group stage defeats through suspension followed by a knee injury.

Having been suspended for the opening 1-0 defeat to Netherlands, Vidic picked up a knee injury in training before a 6-0 drubbing by Argentina and also sat out the 3-2 defeat by Ivory Coast in the final game.

(Editing by Miles Evans)