From outcast to outstanding, Ljajic ignites Serbian hopes

Published 10/09/2015, 10:32 AM EDT
Adem Ljajic during a soccer match at the Kuip stadium in Rotterdam February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Michael Kooren/Files


BELGRADE (Reuters) – Twice axed by former coaches for possessing what they called a wrong mindset, forward Adem Ljajic appeared to have redeemed himself in Serbia’s 2-0 win at Albania which the Balkan nation hopes will be a turning point for the team.

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Having lost any hope of qualifying for Euro 2016, Serbia had only pride to play for against the Albanians and they salvaged it thanks to Ljajic’s most impressive performance of his troubled international career.

The 24-year old released Aleksandar Kolarov with a defence-splitting pass for the opener in the first minute of stoppage time and then sealed Serbia’s win with a dazzling solo run.

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With the Albanians pressing forward for an equaliser, Ljajic robbed them of the ball close to his penalty box and raced the length of the pitch before applying a superb dinked finish.

“It doesn’t matter who scores the goals, the important thing is that we played well,” the 24-year old from Serbia’s ethnically mixed southern region of Sandzak told reporters after Thursday’s match in Elbasan.

“We played our hearts out and executed the gameplan exactly as we discussed it in the dressing room, despite being under pressure from start to finish.”

Touted as the next big thing in Serbia’s football as a teenager, Ljajic was first dropped by Sinisa Mihajlovic ahead of their failed 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign for refusing to sing the national anthem in a friendly.

Dutchman Dick Advocaat, who took over from Mihajlovic, also showed Ljajic the door at the start of the Euro 2016 qualifiers after saying the gifted attacker did not have the right mindset and working ethics.

Advocaat parted company with Serbia after a 3-1 home defeat by Denmark and his replacement Radovan Curcic gave Ljajic a chance to showcase his potential.

The unsettled forward, on loan at Inter Milan from fellow Serie A rivals AS Roma after two patchy seasons in the Italian capital, justified his selection in a politically charged match against the Albanians.

Serbian media splashed giant headlines across the their front pages on Friday, glorifying the result which left Albania needing to win in Armenia in their final match on Sunday in order to secure an automatic berth.

For Serbia, it was a morale-boosting victory raising hopes that they could qualify for the 2018 World Cup after missing out on three successive major tournaments.

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“Our hard work has been left unrewarded up to now but we are back to winning ways and I am confident the trend will continue,” Curcic said.

“This team has endured a lot of criticism which was sometimes out of line, but we are in the process of moulding a unit which should do better in 2018 World Cup qualifying.”

Serbia play already qualified Portugal in their final Euro 16 qualifying match in Belgrade on Sunday, with the Portuguese securing their spot after Thursday’s 1-0 home win over Denmark.

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(By Zoran Milosavljevic, Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)

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Dhruv George

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Dhruv George is a senior Formula One and NASCAR analyst for EssentiallySports, having authored nearly 12000 articles spanning different sports like F1, NASCAR, Tennis, NFL, and eSports. He graduated with a PG Diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute of Communications. Dhruv has also conducted interviews with F1 driver Pierre Gasly and Moto2 rider Tony Arbolino.

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