As Serbia prepare for tonight's sem-final with Belgium, they have a not-so-secret weapon in striker Dragan Mrdja who is playing his club football with K. Lierse SK.
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As Serbia prepare to meet Belgium in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals, they have a not-so-secret weapon in striker Dragan Mrdja who plays his club football with K. Lierse SK.
The 23-year-old moved to Belgium in January 2006 and spent the first half of this season on loan at SV Zulte Waregem before returning to Lierse in January. That leaves him perfectly placed to assess the side who stand between Serbia and a second final in three U21 tournaments, although Mrdja is reluctant to overplay his hand, telling uefa.com: "To me, playing Belgium is no different to playing Italy or Portugal. It's the same match for me. I'm Serbian and, as in every game, I want to give 150 per cent to win for Serbia."
Although he says "I know the Belgium team, all our team do, and I have only a little bit more knowledge", probe a little further and it becomes clear the forward has done his homework. He knows exactly what lies in store at the Goffert Stadion. "I know a few of the Belgian players, particularly the goalkeeper [Logan Bailly], the left-back [Sébastien] Pocognoli, [Anthony] Vanden Borre and Faris Haroun. They're a very strong team, very tactical and it will not be easy for us, but who expects an easy game in a semi-final?
"Belgium's first priority is always to defend and try to score on the counterattack, although Serbia play the same style," Mrdja added with a smile. "It will be a difficult game, very tight, and one goal could settle it. Belgium are good on the break, they play long balls to [Kevin] Mirallas who's very skilful and fast, but that's their only real danger. That could have been difficult for us but our centre-backs, [Branislav] Ivanović and Duško Tošić are very strong and I don't think it will be a problem for us."
If confident his team can overcome the Belgian challenge, Mrdja nevertheless believes he has improved since leaving FK Crvena Zvezda in 2006, explaining: "I'm a better player for my experiences in Belgium, it's taught me a lot. For an attacker it's a very strong and difficult competition. Every team plays quite a defensive style, it's not a country where you see lots of goals. There's a lot less chances so you have to make sure you take them."
'No second chances'
There has been an air of quiet confidence hanging over the Serbia camp throughout these finals and the man who will spearhead their 4-2-3-1 formation against Belgium is no different. "We must defend well again and look for the chance to threaten. We scored late goals against Italy and the Czech Republic, and that's a bonus because it makes it very hard for your opponents to come back," said Mrdja, whose side lost the 2006 semi-final to Ukraine. "Semi-finals are different games; if you lose, you go home. You don't get second chances. Normally you get one opportunity like this, but there's extra motivation in our team because a lot of players here lost a year ago. We're all keen to put that right."