Krylia Sovetov
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 By PA Sport

Nemanja Matic: Ireland game will be most important in Serbia history

Nemanja Matic and Serbia still have a chance to qualify for the World Cup with three games remaining.

Nemanja Matic will head into the "most important" game in Serbia's history dreaming of World Cup qualification and the Premier League title.

The 29-year-old has enjoyed an impressive start to life at Manchester United after Jose Mourinho paid £40 million to lure him north from Chelsea.

However, while helping to restore United to the pinnacle of the English game is a major focus, edging Serbia closer to next summer's World Cup finals in Russia will be his overriding concern when he runs out to face Republic of Ireland in a Group D showdown on Tuesday evening.

"It is the most important game for us in this qualification and maybe in our football history in Serbia," Matic said. "Of course before when it was Yugoslavia, there were many big games played in European Cups, World Cups.

"But when Serbia started to play separately, I think this game is one of the most important games because if we win, we know we are very close to a World Cup and this is very, very important for our football and our country because we are a small country and football means a lot."

Matic's move from Chelsea may have raised eyebrows, but the man himself was giving little away about the circumstances which saw him swap London for the red half of Manchester, and was equally coy about suggestions he could be the signing of the summer.

He said: "We will see. It is too early to say that because we have just played three games. It is true that we have started well with three games, nine points without conceding a goal, so I am happy because of that.

"But the season is very long and there are many games. We will see at the end of May where we are.

"What I can say is that I am happy that I am part of such a big club like Manchester United. I am very focused to do my job for the national team against Ireland."

Asked if qualifying for the World Cup and winning the Premier League would represent a dream season, he added: "It is a dream for me to play at the World Cup with Serbia. If that happens, I will be very happy.

"If I win the Premier League with Manchester, that would be something great in my life. But I repeat again, it's still a long way to go."

Matic's style of play has inevitably led to comparisons with Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, and the Serbian enforcer admits he admired his United predecessor as a youngster.

He said: "When I started following football, he was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, if not the best.

"I tried to take [something] from every player to improve myself. Of course, he was one of those players."

If Matic's quality will be key to Serbia's hopes in Dublin, so too could the potency of striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has struggled to make his mark at Newcastle -- where he is currently serving his third three-match ban in a little more than two years -- but has six goals to his credit during the qualification campaign.

Serbia boss Slavoljub Muslin has no complaints with his frontman and believes Mitrovic is more suited to his national team than Rafael Benitez's side.

Muslin said: "Maybe the system of play we have, with three attackers, suits him better. Perhaps the coach in Newcastle doesn't have as much confidence in him as I do.

"With our team, he is the first centre-forward and perhaps he feels more comfortable playing for the national team than he does playing for his own club."

Meanwhile, Matic was diplomatic when asked about the efforts of club manager Mourinho as a goalkeeper in the Grenfell charity match at the weekend.

He said with a smile: "It was a good game for him, but we have a better goalkeeper."


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