Monday 22 January 2018

Mitrovic looks to kill off Ireland's route to Russia

Mitrovic: “Our team is in a good place right now.” Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Mitrovic: “Our team is in a good place right now.” Photo credit: Adam Davy/PA Wire

John Fallon

They've grown accustomed to thunderstorms arriving in Belgrade during their World Cup campaign but the avoidance of any tremors at ground level has been crucial to Serbia's drive towards automatic World Cup qualification.

Intermittent downpours engulfed Saturday's 3-0 win over Moldova at the Partizan Stadium, as occurred when Ireland visited the Serbian capital 12 months ago, and their fans and players will tolerate a deluge again if it lands for their meeting with Georgia on October 9.

That concluding fixture in the group could turn out to be homecoming celebration. Saturday's 3-0 cakewalk over Moldova, coupled with Ireland drawing in Georgia, opened up a two-point gap in favour of the Serbians who could effectively win the group tomorrow by completing the double-header with maximum points.

Slavoljub Muslin brings a full-strength squad to Dublin today, all talking in unison of avoiding the dreaded play-off route by accounting for an Ireland side inferior from a technical aspect and bruised mentally by the display, not just the result, in Tbilisi.

After years of rancour and instability, underlined by their failure to qualify for the three last major tournaments, matters are coming together for the Serbians. So trusting is Muslin of his team that has won four of their seven qualifiers, that ten places in his starting team are already decided.

Two of those, Nemanja Matic and Dusan Tadic, hardly needed to get out of first gear on Saturday and, fearful they'd be booked amid the slippery underfoot conditions which would result in them missing tomorrow through suspension, Muslin took the wise decision to substitute the pair midway through the second half.

By that stage, two goals up through first-half strikes by Mijat Gacinovic and Aleksandar Kolarov, Serbian thoughts had turned to Dublin for a match their skipper Branislav Ivanovic has labelled the most important in their history.

"Our team is in a good place right now," said Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose late goal was the eighth in his last ten games for his country.

"We have not qualified for a major tournament since 2010 but this team needed time to grow. Now we see the good work resulting in our top position.

"We know Ireland will come out fighting and have a full house backing them. This will be a much harder test than Moldova but we deserve to be in first place and want to stay there. We are not even thinking about settling for a play-off at this point."

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