Serbia’s Mitrovic in best ever shape and ready to shock England

By AFP
June 16, 2024
Serbian forward Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates a goal for Al-Hilal last month. — AFP File

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Aleksandar Mitrovic has been one of the Saudi Pro League´s most successful imports and the Serbian striker believes he can carry that form into Euro 2024 to shock England on Sunday.

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Mitrovic spent eight years in England at Newcastle and Fulham before forcing through a move to the riches and sunnier climes of Saudi 12 months ago.

Amid a flurry of star names headed to the Gulf kingdom, including Al Hilal team-mate Neymar, Mitrovic´s move largely went under the radar.

But Neymar´s serious knee injury left the Serb to spearhead an unbeaten season as Al Hilal won the treble of league, Super Cup and King´s Cup -- victory in the final of the latter leaving Al Nassr´s Cristiano Ronaldo in tears.

The 29-year-old has scored 40 goals in 43 games and far from winding down into retirement in the Middle East, thinks the move has conditioned him into the best shape of his life in time for the Euros. "So far, I´ve felt the best I´ve felt in my life - physically and mentally," he told The Times.

"I play a lot more games than I used to play at Fulham and here I play in the best team and I am scoring a lot of goals. I play almost every game. If you put that with a lot of winning then I can continue to play like that for my country."

Already Serbia´s all-time top goalscorer by a distance, Mitrovic has netted 58 times in 91 caps.

His partnership with Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic will be key to how far Serbia can go in Germany in their first-ever European Championship as an independent nation.

England boss Gareth Southgate has admitted his side lack a dominant presence in the air in the absence of the injury Harry Maguire, a weakness that Mitrovic´s power looks ripe to exploit. But based on Serbia´s performance in qualifying, there is little for the Three Lions to fear.

Dragan Stojkovic´s side won just four of their eight qualifiers, finishing a distant second to Hungary and just three points ahead of neighbours Montenegro.

Mitrovic is aware of the scale of the task facing his nation in Gelsenkirchen.

"If you had to choose the hardest game to play then I think that would be England," he said.

"Consider the talent, their history. It´s the toughest game you could ask for but it´s a challenge for us. We look forward to it. We have nothing to lose."

Yet, he also knows the physical toll that a Premier League season can take, which is one of the factors behind England´s 58-year wait to win a major tournament.

Mitrovic said he had "nothing left to give" after attracting criticism for the manner in which he pushed through an exit from Fulham 12 months ago.

"When you play a lot of years in the best league in the world you are just mentally and physically exhausted.

"One year in England is like two or three years in a different league in the world."

Refreshed and filled with confidence by his Saudi stay, Mitrovic is now hoping to make himself a national hero and atone for Serbia missing out on the Euros three years ago.

He missed the decisive penalty in a shoot-out defeat to Scotland that saw Serbia miss out on Euro 2020.

They also bowed out in the group stages of the last two World Cups, and this could a final chance to make an impact on an international tournament for the talented trio of Mitrovic, Fenerbahce´s Dusan Tadic and former Serie A star Sergej Milinkovic.

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