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Pantelić praises Serbia's spirit in comeback win

Marko Pantelić hailed Serbia's ability to "show character when it was needed most" after they came from behind to defeat Northern Ireland 2-1 in qualifying Group C on Friday night.

Marko Pantelić scored Serbia's equaliser against Northern Ireland
Marko Pantelić scored Serbia's equaliser against Northern Ireland ©Getty Images

Experienced striker Marko Pantelić believes Serbia's comeback win against Northern Ireland has injected hope back into his team's UEFA EURO 2012 qualifying campaign.

The hosts trailed to Gareth McAuley's 40th-minute opener in Belgrade but eventually prevailed thanks to goals from Pantelić and Zoran Tošić. Vladimir Petrović's side are now third in Group C, level on points with second-placed Slovenia and five adrift of leaders Italy. With a testing assignment to come in Estonia on Tuesday, Pantelić knows the hard work is only just beginning.

"This victory will only have significance if we win in Tallinn in four days," he told UEFA.com. "It is essential that we showed such strong character when it was needed most. We managed to get back into the match, even though we were behind at half-time. We have made many mistakes during qualifying so far, but I believe we still have a chance to get what we deserve – a place at UEFA EURO 2012."

Milan Jovanović's introduction midway through Friday's encounter against Northern Ireland proved pivotal, the Liverpool FC forward injecting some much needed energy into the hosts' play. "We started the match really badly and we were struggling," he explained. "We were unable to play our game. In the second half, we were much better and we deserved to win. We have a chance again now and there is much more optimism surrounding the matches to follow."

McAuley echoed the sentiments of Serbia's players, conceding that Nigel Worthington's charges were undone after the break. "It was a match of two halves," he said. "Firstly, we were the better team and took the lead. Serbia made some changes and we were disrupted and lost the match. [Jovanović] stepped up their attack and it paid off. We are disappointed, but we should keep the faith."

Jonny Gorman admitted the visitors were hopeful of capitalising on the absence of influential centre-back Nemanja Vidić, but were ultimately caught short. "That gave me hope and it seemed like we would make the most of it," he said. "Then we were completely disrupted by the change in formation in the second half."