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Serbia aim to take final step

Saša Zdjelar has no doubts Serbia can cope with "a good, quality outfit" like semi-final opponents Portugal – although he recognises they must be more ruthless.

Serbia's Saša Zdjelar (left) keeps a close eye on Nikola Kolev of Bulgaria
Serbia's Saša Zdjelar (left) keeps a close eye on Nikola Kolev of Bulgaria ©Sportsfile

Serbia have been working on being more clinical in front of goal as they prepare to take on Portugal in the UEFA European Under-19 Championship semi-finals in Felcsut.

The holders squeezed into the last four thanks to Staniša Mandić's 90th-minute winner against Bulgaria on matchday three – Serbia's 12th, and last, attempt on goal of the evening – and Saša Zdjelar says that is a clear illustration of what needs to be improved in the knockout stages. "True, we might have a bit of a problem with finishing, but we'll work hard at it and we will fix this," the midfielder told UEFA.com.

The tie against Portugal is a repeat of the 2013 semi-final – which Serbia won on penalties after an exhilarating 2-2 draw – and, despite not playing in that game, Zdjelar has a fair idea what to expect. "We don't know a whole lot about Portugal, but we'll watch the videos and prepare as best we can. They are without a doubt a good, quality outfit. But we've faced such opponents before, and we can certainly cope with them. We are anticipating Portugal with confidence. I hope that history will repeat itself."

That view was echoed by Mandić. "Portugal are a very strong team, but so are we," the FK Čukarički forward told UEFA.com. "I think that we can 'break' that game and win. Our 1994 generation, who won the title last year, deserve all the praise they get. I certainly hope that we can repeat that success."

Describing his emotions after his Bulgaria goal as: "phenomenal; I still haven't grasped what we've accomplished", Mandić had no doubts what has brought Serbia to this point. "All the guys are the same; we all believed in this and we've achieved what we've wanted. We are a strong team who have faith in one another. That is why we scored that goal. When the final whistle came, we all just fell down, a mixture of ecstasy and exhaustion."

Staniša Mandić enjoys his goal against Bulgaria
Staniša Mandić enjoys his goal against Bulgaria©Sportsfile

Zdjelar agreed his team were "physically spent" after their exertions on Friday, but believes the opportunity at hand is such that recovery will be no problem. "[Being in the semi-final] is very important. Being in the top four in Europe is a big deal for us and for Serbia, for our people. I am sure they recognise the significance of this. We are playing for them, after all.

"We're delighted to have booked our place in the [2015 FIFA U-20] World Cup and the semi-final. We wanted that; we achieved that. We will try now to go one step further and reach the final. Portugal are formidable opponents, but so were Germany, and we managed to play very well against them."