Emotional Matic in tears after Serbia book World Cup ticket
Belgrade was gripped by anxiety before an overwhelming sense of joy and relief greeted Serbia reaching the World Cup with a nerve-jangling 1-0 home win over Georgia yesterday morning (Singapore time).
Substitute Aleksandar Prijovic's 74th-minute winner was celebrated ecstatically in the cauldron of Red Star's Rajko Mitic Stadium, and the victory left the Balkan nation top of Group D with 21 points from 10 games, two more than second-placed Ireland who booked a play-off spot with a 1-0 win at Wales.
At the final whistle, Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic broke down in tears as emotions got the better of him.
The 29-year-old said: "We had a lot of pressure before this game. We wanted to play patiently, we knew that we would have a chance.
"We showed passion in fighting for Serbia's jersey, not how to play the most beautiful football, because we did not play the best in this qualification, but how we fight and show why we are in Russia."
Coach Slavoljub Muslin, a journeyman who had been in charge of a myriad of European clubs before he took over at Serbia for the qualifying campaign, was elated after the success.
"I expected a tough game against Georgia and suspected that the final step would be the most difficult," he told a news conference after the organisers set off spectacular fireworks which rocketed into the night sky over the Serbian capital.
"Georgia were the better side in the first half and I told the players to move up a gear after the break, though we had to keep it tight at the back too."
Prijovic grabbed the winner with a fine finish after strike partner Aleksandar Mitrovic found him with a fine low cross to delight the raucous home fans.
Serbia had missed their first chance to qualify when they lost 3-2 at Austria last Friday.
This is the second time Serbia have reached the Finals as an independent nation, having been knocked out in the group stages of the 2010 edition in South Africa and then missing the next three major tournaments.
Muslin said: "Few fans believed that we would qualify after our barren eight-year run and all credit goes to the players, who left it all out there in every match. The fans played a big part too and I thank them." - WIRE SERVICES