BELGRADE (Reuters) – Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic hit the bottom level of his worldwide profession final November when he missed the decisive penalty of their Euro 2020 playoff last in opposition to Scotland in a shootout that despatched the Scots by means of to the finals.
One yr later, he emerged as his nation’s hero with a Ninetieth-minute purpose that gave the Serbians a 2-1 2022 World Cup qualifying win at Portugal on Sunday and a berth within the 32-nation match in Qatar.
The 27-year-old Fulham striker, who had additionally suffered a lack of kind at his membership throughout the robust, year-long spell, sparked wild celebrations in Belgrade as followers thronged the Serbian capital’s streets after the sport.
Only a few pundits would have anticipated such joyous scenes after the Euro 2020 qualifying fiasco, with Serbia solely reaching the playoffs by means of the Nations League after a poor run within the Euro qualifiers.
However Mitrovic, who within the meantime additionally turned his nation’s all-time prime scorer with 44 targets in 69 appearances, spearheaded Serbia’s cost as he netted eight in as many qualifying video games having come on as a halftime substitute in opposition to Portugal.
“Payback time for Scotland, with curiosity,” a delighted Mitrovic instructed Serbia’s Nova tv after silencing a vocal house crowd in Lisbon.
“If you work exhausting, it is solely a matter of time earlier than you get your reward. We have an awesome environment, the perfect I can bear in mind and I have been right here a very long time. I’m at a lack of phrases to explain how I really feel.
“The coach (Dragan Stojkovic) had instructed us that we’re able to producing miracles. When he entered the dressing room after the sport, he stated ‘You guys are out of your minds’.”
Stojkovic, as soon as a gifted attacking midfielder who reached the 1990 World Cup quarterfinals with the previous Yugoslavia, remodeled Serbia’s method after taking on in March three weeks earlier than the opening 3-2 win over Eire.
He instilled a bolder philosophy based mostly on maintaining possession and taking the sport to the opposition as a substitute of sitting again and hoping for smash-and-grab outcomes in opposition to the run of play.
It paid off all through the marketing campaign as Serbia completed with six wins and two attracts, having dominated in opposition to 2016 European champions Portugal with crisp one-touch passing after falling behind within the second minute.
“We have now the potential to take action far more,” Stojkovic stated after Serbia celebrated their first win in opposition to a heavyweight aspect since their 1-0 victory over Germany on the 2010 World Cup, the place they made a bunch stage exit.
“I hold saying that none of our rivals have wings and therefore cannot fly. It is a good enjoying discipline. We at all times knew the sport in Lisbon can be like a cup last and we got here out on prime.”
Serbia completed prime of Group A on 20 factors from 10 video games, three forward of Portugal who solely wanted a draw to clinch an automated berth within the finals however will now head to the March playoffs.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Enhancing by Robert Birsel)