In his playing days Ljubinko Drulović was always the joker in the national team dressing room. Things will be more serious when he leads his Serbia side to the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Lithuania after they became the final team to qualify from the elite round.
Slovakia, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland were seen off at that stage, making it four final tournament appearances in the last five editions, and Drulović, in his first job with the Football Association of Serbia (FSS), is hoping his side can match their predecessors' achievements.
UEFA.com: How proud are you to have qualified for the finals?
Ljubinko Drulović: We're in the finals for the fourth time in the last five years, and for the third time in a row; that must make all of us in Serbian football happy. We are not a big country, but we are doing well and I am proud of this generation and my assistants. We have done well.
UEFA.com: Serbia sat out the qualifying round, and then got through the elite round due to their superior goal difference after finishing level with Switzerland and Slovakia. What was that experience like?
Drulović: The fact that we had no competitive matches put pressure on us. Lots of friendlies cannot replace competition. Our 4-0 victory in our first game against Slovakia ultimately made the difference. After that we lost against Switzerland, because we are a young team without much European experience, but overall we deserved first place.
UEFA.com: What does qualification mean to you?
Drulović: It is proof that this generation has all the football and mental qualities needed. During our year of preparation every player showed me each day in training that they have everything to get to the top: professionalism, love of the team, individual technique, collective understanding, a desire to learn, offensive style. We have grown, and with a bit of luck we achieved a great success.
UEFA.com: This generation have already provided two players for the senior side in the shape of Lazar Marković and Aleksandar Mitrović. Are they players to watch?
Drulović: They deserve to be with the senior team, although I also want to keep alive the dream that they can be with us this summer in Lithuania. We are a totally different team with them on the pitch. I want to believe that we can count on them. Marković was not with us during the elite round, but Mitrović came for the second and third games. With them, the mission is much more likely.
UEFA.com: What do you make of your Group B opponents Turkey, Georgia and France?
Drulović: We are in a strong group. France are always strong at this level and we were matched together last year in Estonia. We have played twice against Georgia in the last year and have one victory and one loss. They are good opponents. Finally, we beat Turkey in a tournament in Lithuania last autumn 6-3, but they weren't at full strength. For their qualities we only need to look at who they eliminated in qualifying. We will look at their matches and do our best to analyse them.
UEFA.com: What do you expect to achieve in Lithuania?
Drulović: First of all, I'll tell my players to enjoy the tournament as one of the best eight teams in Europe: 'Enjoy a great tournament and learn, look and show everything you can.' Of course, the first competitive motive will be qualification for the semi-final, but we have a lot of work to do for that.
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