Serbia recall ostracised Muslim midfielder for Ireland game

‘We have to understand patriotism is best shown on the pitch in the heat of battle’

 Adem Ljajic (left) of AS Roma is back in the Serbian squad ahead of the friendly against the Republic of Ireland. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

Adem Ljajic (left) of AS Roma is back in the Serbian squad ahead of the friendly against the Republic of Ireland. Photograph: Cesare Abbate/EPA

Mon, Feb 24, 2014, 17:34

Serbia’s interim management team have recalled Roma’s Adem Ljajic for the friendly against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on March 5th.

The midfielder was kicked out of the squad nearly two years ago by former coach Sinisa Mihajlovic after he refused to sing the national anthem.

A Muslim, Ljajic did not sing the anthem before the friendly against Spain in May 2012, but caretaker coach Ljubinko Drulovic and his assistant Ilija Petkovic are not concerned with the past and want players only to “give the best they have” on the pitch.

“Like everyone else,” Drulovic said today, “Ljajic will have to earn his spot and I’ve decided to give him a chance because he is an excellent player.”

Petkovic candidly elaborated, saying the primary goal is for Serbia to qualify for Euro 2016, having been drawn yesterday in a group alongside Portugal, Denmark, Armenia and Albania, as well as hosts France, who will not play competitively.

“We have to change our attitude and understand that patriotism is best shown on the pitch in the heat of battle to get results,” Petkovic, who steered the former Serbia and Montenegro to the 2006 World Cup, told a news conference.

“We want deeds and not words. We have missed the last two major tournaments and it is absolutely imperative that we qualify for Euro 2016 because we are fed up of being sparring partners for the world’s best teams ahead of World Cups and European Championships.”

Petkovic was equally forthright when asked why there were no players from Serbia’s domestic league in the squad.

“Because none of them are good enough at the moment. The doors of the national team are open to everyone but we will not call up anyone to create an artificial balance.

“The transitional period of injecting fresh blood is over, we need results now and this is what will be expected of either Drulovic or whoever is named on a permanent basis. The players must also adopt the right attitude and stop being lulled by opposition appraisals that they are a world-class unit - and then get played off the park by less heralded teams.”

Drulovic was named this month as caretaker coach until a permanent successor to Mihajlovic is appointed in June.

Mihajlovic departed in November to take over Sampdoria in Italy’s Serie, after enduring an acrimonious relationship with fans, media and some of Serbia’s most experienced players. He shunned the Serbian FA’s request to return to the helm for the Euro 2016 qualification games.