"You can never be 100% sure, but he is built for the top," said former RSC Anderlecht striker Milan Jovanović as he pondered the future of his countryman Aleksandar Mitrović.
Just 19, the powerful, bustling forward was UEFA.com's golden player when Serbia won the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Lithuania last summer – and he has since been fast-tracked into the senior ranks, scoring against Croatia in one of his three appearances.
Last night he struck with two excellent headers to give Serbia a shock 3-0 victory in Belgium in UEFA European U21 Championship qualifying, leaving one of his club-mates to count the cost of not keeping a close enough eye on the attacker.
"I didn't think Serbia were a top-class footballing side," sighed Belgium midfielder Dennis Praet, also 19. "They chose the long ball forward to Mitrović every time, but we were given a lesson in efficiency: three chances, three goals."
Serbia U21 coach Radovan Ćurčić acknowledges that his team are built around the front man. "We are not the same team without him," he explained. "He gives us so much – it's a privilege to have him."
Mitrović left FK Partizan for Anderlecht last summer in what was reportedly a Belgian national-record €5m transfer. The Brussels outfit are not enjoying one of their better seasons – lying third in the table, nine points adrift of leaders R. Standard de Liège – but Mitrović has quietly amassed 11 goals in 21 First League games. If he has not always dazzled pundits in Belgium, he hopes last night's showing will go some way to answering his critics.
"I am still young and am learning a lot," he told UEFA.com this morning. "I know what people are saying about me, but I do not want any additional pressure. I will keep following my own path and maybe yesterday's performance shows I am already on the right track."
Milan Jovanović recognises that the young marksman is still to display his best form in the Eerste Klasse. "He has not been able to show all his qualities in a team that is still searching," explained the 32-year-old, who knows what it takes to be a success in Belgium, having won two titles apiece with Standard and Anderlecht.
However, the 44-times capped Jovanović reckons Mitrović is destined for something even greater. "When I joined Standard in 2006 I was already 25 and had played for Vojvodina, Shakhtar Donetsk and Lokomotiv Moskva," recalled the Serb. "By that age, I think Mitrović will be playing for Manchester City or a big German club. He is a real top finisher – a menace in the box."
For the moment, the 2015 U21 Championship in the Czech Republic is Mitrović's next target. The victory in Louvain put Serbia top of a tight Group 9 and the teenager hopes he might yet do his club-mates a good turn. "Belgium have a great team and I think they will be up with us in the final reckoning," he said. "Now we have to win in Italy, then Belgium can finish second in the group."
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