Marko Pantelić said Serbia were experiencing a "more than hard time" as they face Azerbaijan in Baku knowing they are no longer in control of their destiny.
A 0-0 draw away against Armenia on Saturday left Serbia needing the teams above them in Group A to slip up if they are to snatch a place at next summer's UEFA EURO 2008™ finals and that realisation has hit hard according to Hertha BSC Berlin forward Pantelić. "It is a more than hard time for us," he said. "Now we have only one option – to beat Azerbaijan and await news from the other stadiums. We have to win to keep our standing in Europe."
With captain Dejan Stanković and defender Milan Stepanov now serving suspensions, the absences of Nemanja Vidić, Mladen Krstajić, Milan Jovanović and Ivica Dragutinović will be felt all the more acutely in Baku, where back in 2003 the home side won their first competitive match against Serbia and Montenegro. "At the moment, we are without five of our most experienced guys and a few of us must push the team in the right direction," added Pantelić. "I am optimistic. We have geed each other up, we are ready for battle and I expect victory."
Serbia are currently fourth in the section, three points adrift of second-placed Portugal and third-placed Finland, who they also have a game in hand upon. Given the circumstances, Pantelić is impressed with what his side have achieved but is aware of their most significant weakness. "Javier Clemente changed the team and gave a chance to 12 players who played in the last three [UEFA] European Under-21 Championships, and reached the finals twice," he said. "That was and still is the right idea but we are so young that we do not have enough experience."
Regardless of the outcome of tonight's game, and the remaining UEFA EURO 2008™ qualifiers, Pantelić is sure his team can only have benefited from their experiences. "These hard moments will be a weapon for us in the future," he said. "Now, we are growing up. It is always hard. Sometimes we missed out on results but we are building something special. Our group is the hardest, with eight teams – we have travelled so much and played in different climates. For some, this is not important, but it is for us."
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