Lazarevic was the hero of Helsinki for Serbia in their FIFA Futsal World Cup play-off
His hat-trick against Finland fired the Eagles to September’s finals in Lithuania
The striker and his compatriots believe they can reach the quarter-finals
Joy knew no bounds at the Energie Arena in Vantaa, Finland, on the evening of 9 December 2020, as Serbia’s national futsal team danced and sang in a circle shortly after the final whistle brought their play-off tie to a close. After edging a 1-0 win at home, a spectacular 5-5 draw in the return leg was enough for the Eagles to secure victory over Finland.
At the heart of this joyous throng was hero of the hour Jovan Lazarevic, whose hat-trick played a major part in helping Serbia to snatch the last European ticket to the FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania 2021™.
In a crucial match, the 23-year-old emphatically demonstrated that he is in a class of his own and a player who is capable of leading the line and delivering top-drawer performances when it matters most, despite still being a relative youngster.
"Scoring three goals was an incredible feeling, but it was also a victory for my team-mates," Lazarevic said proudly after the match. "It was definitely my night in Helsinki [Editor's note: Vantaa is just north of the capital Helsinki], and all my hard work in futsal paid off in one match with this result. I’m happy because all the futsal fans in Serbia will be delighted with our performance."
With his goals, the striker – who plays for FC Mostar SG in Bosnia and Herzegovina – ensured that Serbia will be playing at their first Futsal World Cup since Thailand 2012, and he is confident that he and his team will go far at this global showdown.
"I’m expecting great things from our team. If we make it to the quarter-finals, it would be a good result for Serbian futsal.
"I’m expecting great things from our team," he said. "I can’t wait to see where we stand as a country and how good we really are. The World Cup is a place where we can test ourselves against the very best sides. It is a big stage, and every club in the world will be watching all the players very closely. It’s a good opportunity for all of us. I’m sure we can be successful. We’ll find out exactly where we stand."
Serbia reached the round of 16 at their first and only previous World Cup in Thailand nine years ago, and Lazarevic is hoping they can go even further in Lithuania. "Progressing through the group stage is a realistic goal for us, and anything is possible after that," he explained. "If we can make it to the quarter-finals, it would be a good result for Serbian futsal."
Reaching the last eight of a World Cup is an ambitious target; after all, the World Cup plays host not only to the sport’s best teams but also its biggest stars. "I admire players like Lozano, Diego and Merlim," said Lazarevic. "I’d love to have the chance to play against some of them at the World Cup."
But where does this optimism come from, and why does the technically adept left-footer have such confidence in himself and his team? "Our biggest strengths are our youth and our camaraderie off the pitch," the striker explained. "We also play very quick, modern futsal. Having said that, we still have plenty of room for improvement. We have to stay focused for the full 40 minutes rather than just part of it."
As well as winning him plenty of new fans, Lazarevic’s three goals in World Cup qualifying against Finland will have made his father’s heart sing. This is particularly important to Lazarevic, who is very close to his father. "My dad is my icon and my idol," he said. "He has always supported me and I owe everything to him. I’m so happy to be able to make him proud."
In Lithuania this September, Lazarevic will have another opportunity to make his father and all Serbian fans smile. The fact that he will be celebrating his 24th birthday on the eve of the tournament could prove to be a good omen. And who knows – that joyful evening in Helsinki could soon be followed by another unforgettable night in Kaunas, Klaipeda or Vilnius.