2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™

14 June - 15 July

Russia 2018

Krstajic reveals Serbia's secret weapon

Serbia's coach Mladen Krstajic gives a press conference at Samara Arena
© AFP
  • Serbia head coach Mladen Krstajic gives insight into his team
  • He reveals the key ingredient to having a successful tournament team
  • Serbia are aiming to progress to knockout stages for first time as independent nation
By Sonja Nikcevic with Serbia

Serbia's national team coach is somewhat of an enigma in international football. Mladen Krstajic made his mark as a defender in the national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™, but is only set to make his competitive coaching debut against Costa Rica on Sunday.

Krstajic was assistant coach to Slavoljub Muslin who led Serbia to a top-of-the-group finish in World Cup qualifying, and it was the 44-year-old who took over at the Serbia helm eight months ago. He has since led the team in six friendly matches, which were a mix of rotation and World Cup preparation, but says he has all the experience he needs to know this team is going in the right direction.

“My World Cup experience from 2006 means a lot," Krstajic said. "I’m here as a coach now, but I was also part of the team in the qualifiers for South Africa 2010. I’ve been through a lot, and I know from experience what the most important thing is, and that is atmosphere."

“For the first time after a long time, we have a good group, and unity in the team. This is what gives us the strength and makes us optimistic ahead of the match against Costa Rica.”

Those following the Serbian national team have never heard such a vocal expression of unity – from both players and staff, and this, Krstajic insists, is what can make the difference for the Orlovi in Russia.

“Anyone can say what they want but, players and team quality mean nothing if you have clans within the team. If you have that – which we don’t have this time – it takes over.”

The general consensus is that Serbia has always had a strong team on paper, but something was missing for them to make that final step. This time, with unity in the team, the likes of Lazio’s sought-after Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Manchester United pillar Nemanja Matic and in-form striker Aleksandar Mitrovic could pave the way for a precious three points against Costa Rica and possibly a first time out of the group for Serbia since it became an independent nation.

“Costa Rica are an experienced team that has been together for a very long time,” Krstajic added. “They have quality, they have a couple of experienced players who carry the team, but we believe in this team of ours and our unity. We have quality in the squad, with players that have key roles in their clubs - big clubs. Anyone can say what they want, but we all know this first match is the most important.”

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