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Serbia’s Mitrovic out to break goal record and sink Portugal

Belgrade – Aleksandar Mitrovic will head into today’s World Cup qualifier against Portugal determined to become his country’s all-time top scorer as they look to secure a first competitive win over the European champions.

Mitrovic, who has endured a goal drought at his Premier League club Fulham, came off the bench to score twice in Serbia’s comeback 3-2 win over Ireland on Wednesday in their opening Group A match.

The brace put him level on 38 goals with late former Yugoslavia striker Stjepan Bobek who played international football from 1946 to 1956 and the 26-year-old Mitrovic aims to set an unmatchable record.

“It would be great to break the record against Portugal but winning the game is more important,” Mitrovic told a news conference in Serbia’s Stara Pazova training base.

“A goal and a clean sheet to go with it would come as icing on the cake but either way, my long-term objective is to set a scoring record that will never be eclipsed.

“The performance against Ireland has given me a shot of confidence because it’s so important for every striker to score goals. I went through a rough patch at Fulham but I never lost faith I’d bounce back.”

Serbia have lost three and drawn as many against the Portuguese and their new coach Dragan Stojkovic said his team would take the game to their rivals after enjoying a victorious debut against the Irish.

“We will reshuffle the team because playing three games in a week is a tough schedule and Portugal will be a very different prospect to Ireland,” said the former midfielder who helped Yugoslavia reach the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals.

“We won’t be defensive or expect any gifts from the European champions, meaning that we will have a go and try to make life difficult for them.”

Portugal opened their campaign with an unimpressive 1-0 home win over Azerbaijan in Turin but their Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva was confident they would produce an improved performance against Serbia.

“We have a lot of respect for the Serbians because they are a gifted and physical team but we believe in ourselves and our own ability,” he said.

“We came here to win. Expectations at home have grown since we won Euro 2018 as we’ve lifted the bar for ourselves. We will do our best to live up to them although it’s not easy heading into every game as favourites.”

Coach Fernando Santos added: “We will try to keep possession and wear them down, my team has a huge desire to win what should be a dynamic and fast-paced encounter.”

The Serbians visit Azerbaijan in their next game on Tuesday while Portugal are away to Luxembourg. ― Reuters

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