Stojkovic hoping Serbia avoids Covid chaos

Coach wary players could miss next week’s game against Ireland

Recently appointed Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic is hoping that neither the upsurge in coronavirus numbers nor the re-imposition of severe restrictions by the country's government will negatively impact on his side's start to the World Cup qualification campaign which gets underway next Wednesday with a game against the Republic of Ireland in Belgrade.

Serbia has been battling some of the highest new infection rates in the world over the past week to 10 days and a major new lockdown was announced in the past few days in an attempt to curtail the sudden growth in numbers.

"We are closing everything and we'll see what it will be like after Monday," said Serbian prime-minister Ana Brnabic when announcing that all but essential shops and services would shut down from the middle of this week for five days.

Stojkovic is concerned that he may end up having to cope without some of his squad embers due to the challenges involved for players attempting to travel home but the 56-year-old, whose previous management jobs have been with clubs in Japan and China, insisted that the team would still be aiming to win all three games in the international window regardless of who is available.

“We are in daily contact with the players and their clubs and at this point I don’t expect any problems although there are indications that some of them might miss our opening three games,” Stojkovic told local reporters.

The preliminary list of 30 players he named last week includes just two who are locally based with the rest drawn from across 12 European leagues, with six playing their club football in Italy.

"I am confident a solution will be found for them to join us. Either way, though, we are aiming for nothing less than a maximum nine points and the shambolic performance against Scotland (in the Euro2020 play-off last November) must never happen again while I am in charge."

The Serbs face a tough start to the campaign with Portugal due to visit just three days after the Ireland game and a trip to Azerbaijan to follow immediately after that. It means that Stojkovic's side will have completed three of their group games before the end of the month.

Having had more than their fair share of Covid-19 related problems in the autumn, Stephen Kenny’s squad will gather at their Manchester base over the course of Sunday and Monday before travelling to Belgrade ahead of the game.

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