World Cup qualification thrills Serbia striker Mitrović
Written by Tom Easterby
Newcastle United forward Aleksandar Mitrovic says helping Serbia qualify for the World Cup finals with a 1-0 win over Georgia this week was “the biggest and proudest night” of his career.
Mitrovic’s low cross set up Aleksandar Prijovic to tuck home the only goal at the Stadion Rajko Mitic in Belgrade on Monday night – a result which ensured Slavoljub Muslin’s side’s place at the tournament in Russia next summer.
Twenty-three-year-old Mitrovic was a key figure throughout Serbia’s qualification campaign, scoring six goals to help them secure top spot in Group D, ahead of the likes of the Republic of Ireland, Wales and Austria.
And the Magpies forward – who scored against West Ham in his only league outing of the season so far – says helping his team book their place at their first major tournament since 2010 was an unparalleled achievement in the forward's time in football.
“It was an amazing night for all people in Serbia. It was unbelievable,” he told nufc.co.uk. “It’s been a long period of qualification, about a year and a half since we started, and after eight years, the whole country has waited for our football team to go to a big competition.
“When we started, it was difficult, because no one believed in us. For the first game there was about five or ten thousand people, but for the last game there was almost 50,000 people. It was unbelievable what we did, what we achieved, and it was the biggest and proudest night in my football career, definitely.
“It’s a big deal. When I was younger you watch football and dream about representing your country and your people in a big competition. We have a lot of sports in Serbia – basketball, water polo and some other sports are really big, and we have a lot of success in almost every sport – but football is still number one. It’s really unbelievable.”
Mitrovic played in all but one of Serbia’s ten qualifiers, netting against Wales, Austria, Georgia and Moldova.
The former Anderlecht man says Muslin’s belief in him was crucial as he excelled in front of goal for his national side.
“The manager of Serbia always believed in me – for him I was always the first striker, and I played almost every game. He gave me confidence, and I’m glad that I gave him back goals and assists. I’m very happy and proud, and I can be thankful,” he said.
“He knows my abilities, he always talks to me and encourages me – not just me, but the whole team. Before he came we had a problem, because we had a lot of good players but we didn’t have a team.
“He made us train, believe and do everything like a team, and the atmosphere in the team for a year and a half was unbelievable. We are good friends, and I think every player can’t wait to get the call from the national team and to be there. It’s really nice, and it’s a pleasure to be part of this team.”
Mitrovic is now back at United’s Benton training ground, preparing for Sunday’s Premier League clash with Southampton at St. Mary’s (4pm kick-off).
And he says that the prospect of playing in what would be his first major tournament next summer is a source of motivation for him as he looks to regain a place in the Magpies side.
“It’s one more thing to work for. It’s in front of me, so I have to stay in shape, train hard and try to prepare to be at the World Cup in the best shape I can be. It’s a long time away, but I want to play, and I want to be in the best shape I can be,” he said.
“It’s the biggest teams and the biggest competition in football, the biggest competition any player can dream of playing in. We are a small country, with six or seven million people, but you see now that our country is next to some much bigger countries.
“We don’t want to go there just to be there. If we go there, we will try to do something more, to be part of Serbian history. It’s not just motivation for me – it’s motivation for all players who represent our country and our people.”
"When we started, it was difficult, because no one believed in us. For the first game there was about five or ten thousand people, but for the last game there was almost 50,000 people. It was unbelievable what we did, what we achieved, and it was the biggest and proudest night in my football career, definitely."