By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) – Winning promotion to the Premier League with Fulham is a major personal confidence boost for the World Cup, Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic said on Monday as the Balkan nation started their build-up for next month’s tournament in Russia.
Fulham reached the top flight with a 1-0 playoff win over Aston Villa at Wembley on Saturday and Mitrovic acknowledged his January move to Craven Cottage on loan from Newcastle United had given him a lift.
“It was a great way to end the season and it has really done a world of good for my confidence and motivation ahead of the World Cup,” the robust 23-year old hitman told reporters.
“I thrived from playing at Fulham under coach and compatriot Slavisa Jokanovic and I am hopeful of carrying my club form into the forthcoming games for Serbia.
“I played the best football of my life in the past few months after a frustrating first half of the season at Newcastle and I am hungry like a wolf for more goals.”
Mitrovic, Serbia’s top scorer in World Cup qualifying with six goals, netted 12 for Fulham and was one of the team’s key players in returning to the Premier League for the first time since 2014.
He stressed Serbia would be under a lot of pressure from their fans and pundits to make an impact in the 32-nation tournament in Russia despite being drawn in a tough Group E alongside Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica.
“We are familiar with that kind of pressure because our fans or so passionate and success-hungry,” he said.
“On one hand, merely qualifying for the World Cup after an eight-year absence from major tournaments is a success in its own right but on the other, it would be a pity for a team of this quality to suffer an early exit.
“The opening game against Costa Rica will be key because a win would trace the path to the knockout rounds so the upcoming warm-up games against Chile and Bolivia will be a good test of our credentials.
“We have to put all the pieces of the puzzle into place during those two games and work hard to improve in departments which need polishing.”
After the first build-up phase in their Stara Pazova camp near Belgrade, the Serbians will go to Austria for the second stage including friendlies in Graz against Chile on June 4 and Bolivia five days later.
Asked what he thought about the official World Cup ball, Mitrovic said he liked it but was not sure goalkeepers would share his opinion.
“It’s slick and I needed no time to adjust to it because it’s not that different from the other balls,” he said.
“But you must ask the goalkeepers too what they think because I am a striker and my objective is to put it past them into the back of the net.”
(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic, editing by Ed Osmond)