Serbia coach Javier Clemente is looking to put a painful defeat in Kazakhstan behind him as his team take on in-form Portugal in a vital qualifier in Belgrade.
Back on 11 June 2003, as part of Serbia and Montenegro, the side lost 2-1 in a UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifier in Baku, handing Azerbaijan their first competitive victory. Four years on, Serbia were on the wrong end again as Kazakhstan enjoyed their maiden win under UEFA's aegis by the same margin, incurring the wrath of the nation's sports press. Sportski Zurnal hit out at Serbia's Spanish coach, leading with the headline "Clemente is a fake", and cast scorn on the 57-year-old's decision to leave defenders Mladen Krstajić and Ivica Dragutinović on the bench.
All could be forgiven, however, if Serbia beat Group A giants Portugal on Wednesday although they must first address their failings against Kazakhstan. "We did not make many mistakes in defence but we missed so many good chances," Clemente acknowledged. "The climate and time differences were not big problems. The pitch was bad, but that is no excuse." Football Association of Serbia president Zvezdan Terzić gave Clemente his backing nonetheless, saying: "We have a lost a battle but not the war. I am convinced we will achieve our goal and finish in the top two to qualify for Austria and Switzerland."
To do so, they will have to restore confidence against Portugal. In their favour, they will be able to call upon captain Dejan Stanković after his one-match ban, though the absence of striker Nikola Žigić – suspended after being red-carded late in the game against Kazakhstan – may be a big blow. Yet Clemente does not believe the pressure will get to his players. "We were disappointed, but now we prepare for Wednesday night," he said. "It is not in our mentality to be afraid. We move on. Qualifying is a long process - one defeat is never decisive and one victory does not mean that much." It would mean something against Portugal, however.
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