Dusan Tadic has revelled in hearing the Serbia fans chant his name and enthused over the possibility of reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. Slavoljub Muslin’s side are second in Group D, two points behind Republic of Ireland and two above Wales. Austria are a further two points back in fourth.
Serbia’s position is indebted to Tadic. The Southampton playmaker netted in the 2-2 draw with Ireland, scored one and set up two in the 3-0 win in Moldova, got another two assists and the winner in a 3-2 defeat of Austria and, despite breaking his nose in the first half against Wales, refused to come off and helped the visitors recover a deficit to draw, after which declaring that “us Serbians are not soft”. The 28-year-old was duly beat the likes of Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic to be crowned Serbian Footballer of the Year, but he has his eyes on another reward.
“This is a great recognition for what I’ve done and encouragement to do more,” said Tadic. “It wouldn’t have been possible without my national team coach and team-mates.
“The greatest award for all of us players and the whole country would be a trip to Russia. There will be some big challenges, we have a difficult road ahead, but we have all the prerequisites to qualify for the World Cup.
“Muslin has got us going again. We feel the support all around us and I’m very pleased about that. Together as one, we’re well on course to achieve our goal of qualifying.”
The match that Tadic remembers most fondly is the one against Austria in Belgrade. The former Groningen and Twente man created two goals for Aleksandar Mitrovic, but with the score all square, David Alaba, Marko Arnautovic and Co seemed likelier to find a winner until Tadic’s fine volley settled it in Serbia’s favour.
“I’ve had the fans chant my name while playing for the clubs I’ve represented, but that was the first time for the national team,” he said. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”
In their first World Cup qualification campaign since becoming an independent nation – Serbia were previously part of Yugoslavia and Serbia and Montenegro – they finished above France to reach South Africa 2010, where they surprisingly beat Germany at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium but failed to reach the knockout phase.
Serbia failed to make Brazil 2014 after finishing third in their preliminary pool, behind Belgium and Croatia. Their triumph at last year's FIFA U-20 World Cup – they beat a Gabriel Jesus-spearheaded Brazil in the final – nonetheless suggests the future is bright.