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Friday 9 December 2016

Born-again Serbs have World Cup in sights

Serbia’s Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrate victory over Austria
Serbia’s Dusan Tadic and Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrate victory over Austria

A revitalised Serbia have warned their rivals in Group D, including Ireland, that they are right back in the hunt for World Cup qualification.

A 2-2 draw at home to Ireland, in front of a poor crowd of just 7,000 in Belgrade, was not the required start to the campaign for Serbia, and Slavoljub Muslin's side were roundly criticised for their performance against the Irish in that draw.

But back-to-back wins in which they averaged three goals a game has put them on top of the table ahead of Ireland on goal difference.

The previously mis-firing Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic delivered two goals in Sunday's 3-2 win at home to Austria, though Shane Long's club-mate Dusan Tadic was the star of the show with one goal and two assists.

That leaves Austria in a position of weakness ahead of their game at home to Ireland next month, the Austrians having conceded six goals in thee games, while Serbia have been revived.

"It's going to be a difficult campaign and the next game coming up is going to be huge in November.

"It's back to our clubs for a few weeks in between and I'm sure Austria will be smarting from their result in Serbia and want three points against us," says Ireland man Jon Walters.

For Serbia captain Branislav Ivanovic, the campaign is only starting for real now, as they recover from the dropped points at home to Ireland.

"The win over Austria is very important, and it could be a turning point before the next stage of qualifying," says the Chelsea man.

"We fully deserved to beat the Austrians and, hopefully, this is just the beginning, now we are looking to the next match, away to Wales next month.

"There is no reason to get over-excited, but we can be satisfied with six points from two matches in the last week," Ivanovic added.

Scorer Mitrovic said: "We won against Austria, now we are all happy, the atmosphere is positive and with that mood in the camp, look forward to the next match with Wales".

While Ireland gear up for a trip to Vienna, Moldova have three of their next four games away from home but Walters says he can see other sides becoming unstuck in Chisinau.

"I think if they don't take it seriously enough other teams could struggle," he says

"You compare it to a lower team in a cup competition where the focus is not on small details, you can come unstuck, yeah.

"Georgia probably had a bit more quality than Moldova, they have experienced players playing in European leagues so these are difficult games and we're just happy that we got six points."

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