Monday 23 April 2018

This is one of the most important games in Serbian history - Matic

Nemanja Matic will be a key man for Serbia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night
Nemanja Matic will be a key man for Serbia at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday night
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

In the midst of Nemanja Matic attempting to talk up the threat that Ireland will pose to Serbia this evening, the Manchester United midfielder somewhat tripped himself up when he warned against the hosts' "special style of football".

Martin O'Neill has come under severe pressure for Ireland's dismal display in Georgia on Saturday but Matic, who admitted that he had seen the dire possession statistics, is refusing to read too much into that.

Ireland's route-one approach was their undoing in Tbilisi as they struggled to break down a Georgian outfit who were beaten 3-1 at home by Serbia earlier in the campaign.

"To have possession of the ball is not important, if you have results," Matic insisted.

"The Republic of Ireland, they have results until now. Nobody asks after the game how you played if you take three points.

"They have a special style of football, play long balls and this works, it works. They are second, two points behind us and the most important thing is who will be in Russia.

"I saw they had 25 to 30pc possession of the ball but they got one point in Georgia so that's most important."

Matic, who made his United debut last month at the Aviva Stadium in a friendly against Sampdoria, was signed for £40 million (€43m) and many supporters believe that he is exactly the kind of player the club have been missing since Roy Keane's days.

Matic grew up idolising Keane but he is desperate to get one over on the Ireland assistant manager.

"When I started following football, he was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, if not the best," Matic said.

"I tried to take (something) from every player to improve myself. Of course, he was one of those players. He is a legend of Manchester United and I will be happy to see him and have a chat with him."

Serbia can take a firm grip of Group D with a win in Dublin this evening, while at the same time putting another massive dent in Ireland's hopes of making it to Russia next summer.

While Matic and his manager Slavoljub Muslin admitted that a draw would be a decent result for their side, the midfielder wasn't downplaying the importance of the clash as he branded it the biggest in the country's short history.

"It is the most important game for us in this qualification and maybe in our football history in Serbia," Matic maintained.

"We know that in this stadium it is hard to take points and that for them it is also a very important game because they know that if they lose points we have a big advantage.

"At the moment we are happy that we are first and we will give it our best to stay in first position.

"Of course before when it was Yugoslavia there were many big games played in European Cups, World Cups but when Serbia started to play separate I think this game is one of the most important because if we win we know we are very close to a World Cup.

"This is very, very important for our football and for our country because we are a small country and football means a lot."

Serbia failed to qualify for the last World Cup as well as the last three European Championships but Matic believes the confidence within the current squad can end that poor run.

"As you know, we had some problems in the last qualification," the 29-year old added.

"We said that we have to forget that and use our qualities to try and do something because we have great players. We have leaders and a great manager who has great experience.

"We are doing our job well but I still think that we can improve because we have many young players in our team. Step by step, we are getting better and better. We have more confidence. We are starting to believe.

"You can see in the last few games, we played really good football. We are playing in a different system than before so maybe that is better for us."

Irish Independent

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