Sunday 22 April 2018

Matic ready for 'long ball' Irish

United star says tonight’s clash ‘one of the most important’ in Serbia’s history

Serbia’s Nemanja Matic is pictured during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin yesterday ahead of tonight’s Group D clash. Photo: Sportsfile
Serbia’s Nemanja Matic is pictured during a press conference at the Aviva Stadium, Dublin yesterday ahead of tonight’s Group D clash. Photo: Sportsfile

Nemanja Matic grew up watching the likes of Roy Keane in the Premier League, hence his undoubted admiration for the current assistant manager of the Irish national team.

The 29-year-old was also forced to endure a series of failures and disappointments by his own international team.

So the midfielder, who moved from Chelsea to Manchester United in the summer, is more than pleased with the current status of Serbian football, the away side very much the favourites to get a positive result in Dublin tonight and keep them on course to qualify for a major finals, having missed out three times since the 2010 World Cup.

Matic jokes that he will have a chat with Keane after events are completed in Dublin tonight.


"He is a legend of Manchester United. He was a very important player for them for a long time and when I was young and I started to follow football he was at his best in Manchester," Matic said, speaking in Dublin at the pre-match press conference.

"He was a great player and one of the best in the league. I am happy that I play in same club that he played"

It's smiles all round for Serbia these days, a young team hoping to end some barren years.

"Before, when it was Yugoslavia there were many big games but then Serbia started to play separate (2006), so I think this game is one of the most important games because if we win we know we are very close to a World Cup and this is very, very important for our football and our country because we are a small country and football means a lot," he says. While all the pressure is on Ireland for this game tonight, a win for Serbia would effectively win them the group, a draw would more that suffice.

"The draw is not a bad result. We will try to use our opportunities to win the game and take three points but we know it will be hard in this stadium in front of their supporters but as manager says a draw is not a bad result. The most important thing is to stay in the first position," added Matic. Watching Ireland's display against Georgia last week could lull Serbia into a false sense of security, should they presume that's the best Ireland can do, so Matic is not too focused on how poorly Ireland played, and had so little possession.

"To have possession of the ball is not that important if you have results. The Republic of Ireland, they have results until now. Nobody asks after the game how you played if you take three points," says Matic.

"They have a special style of football, play long balls and this works, it works. They are second, two points behind us and the most important thing is who will be in Russia. I saw they have 25 to 30 per cent possession of the ball but they got one point in Georgia so that's most important."


Serbia's manager, the 64-year-old Slavoljub Muslin, also appears to be less than impressed with the Irish way of playing.

If tonight is a battle of skills, he's expecting his talent-packed side to win, but he's fearful of a physical battle.

"Technically, yes, perhaps we would win, but in football, that doesn't play the only role and we know the fighting spirit of the Irish team and how successful they have been with that," he says when asked by The Herald if Serbia are simply better-equipped in terms of technique.

"We realise what a difficult team they can be with their fighting spirit and in the first match, that showed very well," added Muslin, pleased that striker Aleksandar Mitrovic's form with the national team is much better than his record with Newcastle.

"Maybe the system of play we have, with three attackers, suits him better. Perhaps the coach in Newcastle doesn't have as much confidence in him as I do," he says, confidence not in short supply in this Serbia team.

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