Serbia glad to speak about Steven Fletcher knowing he won’t be playing
WHENEVER Craig Levein thinks he has put the Steven Fletcher issue to bed, it does not take long before it has shrugged off the duvet, jumped to its feet and started running round the room again.
Yesterday, at a Hampden press conference, it was the turn of the Serbians to revive the controversy, as captain Branislav Ivanovic, fellow-defender Aleksandar Kolarov and coach Sinisa Mihajlovic all praised the Sunderland striker.
Chelsea’s Ivanovic was first to assess Fletcher, who has been out of the Scotland manager’s plans since informing him indirectly last year that he did not wish to be considered for a match. “I think for us it’s good that he won’t play,” Ivanovic said, before diplomatically continuing: “But he has not played for a long time. We know how tough it will be, so maybe it’s a good thing, but we are looking out for ourselves. It will be a difficult game, not depending on one or two players, because Scotland have enough quality.”
Manchester City’s Kolarov offered similar sentiments, adding: “It’s better if one of your best players doesn’t play tomorrow, but the Scotland team is quite good also without him.” Mihajlovic injected a lighter note into proceedings, but also managed to keep the controversy going.
Asked who he thought was Scotland’s most dangerous player, he smiled and said: “Fletcher”.
Having made that jocular remark, Mihajlovic was then far more deferential to his hosts when he urged the Scotland supporters to get behind their team. There will be a very limited number of away fans in the national stadium, the Serbian FA having decided against an open sale of tickets because of trouble at some recent matches, and the visiting manager appeared to suggest that the more raucous the atmosphere generated by the home support, the better it would be for both teams.
“We play football for supporters,” he said. “I love to see a full crowd. It is important that supporters come to this match and that will be a great thing for us.
“I would kindly request of Scottish fans; please continue to support your team even if you concede a goal. Scotland has a good team at the moment. Our group is very tough, very equal. Anybody can win each game and that means for sure that Scotland has a chance to qualify.
“We’ve studied the Scotland team and we know very well the players and tactical ideas. But maybe they will surprise us tomorrow as we prepare a surprise for them. We know from which part of the team and which player can be the most dangerous, but we also saw some weaknesses and we will try to exploit that. It is important to win the game for the psychological side, but we have ten matches in the group.”
Unsurprisingly, when Mihajlovic was asked what those surprises might be, or what team selection he planned, he declined to show his hand. “Who knows? I made three changes before, then four changes at the last game, so who knows?
“When I took the job I had the wish to see all the professional players who can play in the national team. In that case, in the friendly games against Spain, France and Sweden, I made ten changes each time to see what we can do.
“After that I made a list of 27, 28 names, and most of them are here. Maybe we will surprise all of you with some new formation. We will keep thinking and decide the best for us.”
Having only taken up his post in May, Mihajlovic has not had a huge amount of time in which to prepare for this World Cup campaign, and his task has been made more difficult by the recent retiral from international football of two of his biggest names, Nemanja Vidic and Dejan Stankovic.
Nonetheless, he appears happy with the state of his squad, and even claimed that the rainy weather in Glasgow was preferable to the heat which still prevails at this time of year in Serbia.
“We still have a few very experienced guys, but also we have a lot of youth players. Vidic and Stankovic are really experienced and have had great careers, but we play without them now and I have full confidence in my players.
“We’ve had only a few days to work with the players and let them know what we expect. But that’s my problem, and I can live with it.
“I slept well last night and I will sleep well tonight too, because in Scotland it’s raining and cold, not like in Serbia. I have great conditions in which to prepare myself before this important game.”
While both players and their coach were giving little away yesterday, Ivanovic was reportedly more forthcoming earlier in the week, having been quoted in some outlets as believing Scotland would become “disoriented” if Serbia played a passing game on the ground. Almost inevitably, he claimed that something had been lost in translation.
“I think this is the media war started,” he said. “I think it was mistakes in the translation. We are full of respect for your national team. We know how you play and we expect the atmosphere tomorrow will make it very difficult and tough for us.”
Ivanovic decided against a simple answer when asked how important it was for Serbia to kick off their campaign with a win.
“I think this is one of the hardest away games for us, so we will be fully concentrated and we will have to give our maximum to get a positive result,” he said. “We have a new faith and a new team. It is a new road for us and we want to start in the best possible way.”
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Thursday 23 May 2013
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