Tuesday 26 June 2018, 06:15

Auckland memories inspiring Milinkovic-Savic

  • ​Five of Serbia’s squad helped stun Brazil in a FIFA U-20 World Cup final

  • Sergej Milinkovic-Savic identifies Brazil’s weakness to FIFA.com

  • Dusan Tadic discusses his duel with Marcelo and the key to victory

By Sonja Nikcevic with Serbia

Rewind three years. Serbia and Brazil collided. At stake was the FIFA U-20 World Cup trophy.

The South Americans were, naturally, the overwhelming favourites. They boasted mega-prospects Gabriel Jesus and Malcom, as well as Manchester United and Real Madrid players, and they were that competition’s five-time champions. Serbia, nonetheless, sprung an almighty upset, winning 2-1 after extra-time.

The stakes at a FIFA World Cup™, where a Serbia-Brazil reunion will unfold, are far greater. The stage, with eyes from across the globe transfixed on Spartak Stadium, is much grander. But five of the young Serbians from 2015 are now part of Mladen Krstajic’s senior cast – and one believes lightning can strike twice.

“We have to forget everything else and turn to this match of a lifetime,” said Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a hulking 23-year-old who has blossomed into one of the most-coveted midfielders on the planet. “You don’t get many chances to play against Brazil. I played against them in New Zealand, but this is something else, this is a different level, with so many more experienced players.

“But Serbia managed to frustrate Brazil then, and we managed to come out on top. That is a positive image that I’ll carry with me into this game.”

Serbia outworked Brazil in Auckland, identifying their opponents’ defensive weak spot, exploiting it, and taking their chances. Can they do the same in Moscow?

“This Brazilian team has its weaknesses too,” said Milinkovic-Savic. “If we were to break on the counter, a lot of their players would still be high on the pitch, because that is their style of play.

“I have many Brazilian team-mates and I know how they think – everyone wants to go forward and score, with less focus on defense. That could be our opportunity.”

The task of penetrating the Brazilian backline will rest with Milinkovic-Savic and his linking up with Dusan Tadic on the right wing – a partnership that had the crowd on its feet in Serbia’s curtain-raising victory over Costa Rica. The latter’s duel with Marcelo could be central to the outcome.

“Marcelo is undoubtedly one of the best left-backs in the world,” said Tadic. “But every duel on the pitch is important. All I am focused on is our game, and how we can threaten them as much as possible.

“I think it is crucial that every player insists on winning the duel in his position. That’s how we can tip the balance in our favor.”

Adem Ljajic is expected to patrol the left wing, to add depth and creativity to Serbia’s attack in an attempt to beat Brazil at their own game.

“Brazil are one of the favorites to win this competition but football can be sensational, you never know what can happen,” said the Torino player. “I believe we have a high-quality side and that we can challenge them. We’ll give everything that we’ve got out there on the pitch for 90 minutes, and I hope that a miracle can happen.”

As Serbia’s assistant coach Milan Rastavac put it, also recalling that victorious night in Auckland: “For teams of our level, if they want to win, to progress, they have to pull off at least one small miracle. Our opportunity to do that is now.”

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