Soccer-Serbia counting on coach Stojkovic’s World Cup experience, says Mitrovic

By Rohith Nair

DOHA (Reuters) – Serbia have never moved past the group stages at the World Cup since the breakup of Yugoslavia but defender Stefan Mitrovic believes coach Dragan Stojkovic has instilled the right mentality for the team to reach the knockout stages.

Serbia were knocked out at the group stage in 2010 and 2018 and they did not qualify in 2014. Last year they appointed Stojkovic, a former Yugoslav international who has played at several World Cups and European Championships.

Serbia topped their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Portugal to automatically qualify for the finals while they also won their Nations League group in September to gain promotion to League A.

“He’s unbelievable, from the first moment, he gave us a great mentality, he played as a player at the World Cup. He knows we have to put pressure from the start,” Mitrovic said on Sunday.

“Definitely, he’s a very important person in everything we’ve done till now. With his experience, he can show us how to be successful in this tournament.”

Serbia’s biggest test comes in their first Group G game, however, when they take on Brazil on Thursday.

Both Mitrovic and goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic admitted the South Americans are one of the tournament favourites, but they had no qualms about playing the five-times champions so early.

“Everyone knows their history, their mentality and the quality of the players… But I think it’s excellent we play Brazil immediately,” Milinkovic-Savic said.

Mitrovic said “it doesn’t matter” who they play first but said they would have to gel together as a unit if they are to advance to the last 16.

“Their team is very strong with a lot of stars,” he said.

“What we need is an amazing atmosphere in the team and that’s the most important thing we need to be successful in the tournament.”

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Doha, editing by Ed Osmond)