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Smiljanić relishing high stakes

Published: Tuesday 23 June 2009, 8.24CET
Midfielder Milan Smiljanić tells why he believes a daunting final group game against hosts Sweden will bring the best out of his Serbia side and he has the historical evidence to back it up.
by Simon Hart
from Malmo
Smiljanić relishing high stakes
Serbian midfielder Milan Smiljanić is enjoying the relaxing surroundings of Glumslov ©Sportsfile

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Published: Tuesday 23 June 2009, 8.24CET

Smiljanić relishing high stakes

Midfielder Milan Smiljanić tells why he believes a daunting final group game against hosts Sweden will bring the best out of his Serbia side and he has the historical evidence to back it up.

If any Serbia player is daunted by his team's task going into their must-win final Group A fixture against Sweden, he should speak to captain Milan Smiljanić and his fears will soon be assuaged.

Minor miracle
After all, the last time Smiljanić lined up away to the Scandinavians, Serbia did not need so much a victory on Swedish soil as a minor miracle. It was 10 October 2006 and the Balkan team arrived trailing by three goals after the first leg of their qualifying play-off for the 2007 Under-21 finals. "In Serbia we lost 3-0 and everyone at home gave up on us," Smiljanić, now a senior international, recalled. "But then we won here 5-0 and everyone thought we could become European champions."

The RCD Espanyol midfielder is the only survivor of the team that stunned Sweden in Trollhattan en route to finishing runners-up in the Netherlands. The Serbs struck twice inside eleven minutes through Dragan Mrdja and Boško Janković and by half-time Stefan Babović had drawn them level on aggregate (and forced the removal of shell-shocked Sweden goalkeeper Johan Dahlin). To no avail as Babović and Miloš Krasić added two more goals in the second period.

'A quarter-final'
Unlike then, Smiljanić noted, "now we need only to win". He added: "I believe that with this team when we play to win, we do well. We have to treat it like a quarter-final." Slobodan Krčmarević's men find themselves in this predicament after the disappointing goalless draw with Belarus that followed an identical result (albeit with a more impressive display) against Italy. "If we had won against Belarus, we'd need only a point," said Smiljanić. "We played very well against Italy, we had chances but were unlucky. Against Belarus it was difficult, they played with ten men behind the ball and we couldn't get the final pass right."

For all the concerns over Serbia's lack of potency, Smiljanić is optimistic the goals will come in Malmo on Tuesday night. "I expect a lot of goals and a completely different game from the last two. This game will be open, Sweden are playing at home and cannot just sit back. Their fans want them to win and we have a chance. We have three or four players who can score at any moment." The fact Sweden will have the backing of the home crowd does not concern him either – and with some justification given the backing the Serbia team can expect to receive from their noisy band of followers. "It is a bit difficult with Sweden at home in front of their supporters but Serbia have a lot of fans here too."

Second home
Smiljanić was in relaxed mood when he spoke to at the Örenas Slott hotel, Serbia's picturesque base hidden away among farmland near the village of Glumslov. It is not just the pitch-and-putt and table tennis that helps him feel at home – the 22-year-old was actually born here in Sweden. "I was born in a small town, Kalmar, because my father [Branko, now coach of Libya's U21 side] was playing football here. This is my second country so it's great for me to be here as captain of my first country and with a chance of winning the European championship. But before this we have to beat Sweden." A tough task maybe but as Smiljanić can vouch, no mission impossible.

Last updated: 24/06/09 1.17CET