Stojkovic takes over as Serbia coach

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Former Yugoslavia midfielder Dragan Stojkovic took over as Serbia coach on Wednesday in a bid to steer them to the 2022 World Cup, the Balkan nation’s Football Association (FSS) said.

FILE PHOTO: Red Star Belgrade president Dragan Stojkovic gestures during an interview with Reuters in Belgrade May 4, 2006. Stojkovic believes the Serbia and Montenegro champions can break into the Champions League group stage after winning their 24th league title and reaching the Cup final. REUTERS/Marko Djurica (SERBIA)

"The FSS executive board has named Dragan Stojkovic the national team head coach and the contract is to run until the end of the Euro 2024 qualifiers," the governing body said on its website

Stojkovic, an instrumental player in helping Yugoslavia reach the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals and the Euro 2000 last eight, was the prime candidate to take over after Serbia failed to reach Euro 2020 under Ljubisa Tumbakovic.

Tumbakovic was sacked in December after a penalty shootout defeat by Scotland denied Serbia a spot in the June 11 - July 11 tournament, rescheduled for this year after it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stojkovic said he was looking forward to a challenging start as Serbia open their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with home games against Ireland on March 24 and European champions Portugal three days later.

“I am delighted and very proud because there is no greater honour than being in charge of your national team,” he said.

“I couldn’t have wished for a better birthday present and I am fully aware of the magnitude of the task that lies ahead. But I am also confident in my ability and in the national team’s huge potential.”

Stojkovic, who turned 56 on Wednesday, was a fringe player in the Olympique de Marseille side that won the 1993 European Cup, having also featured in their penalty shootout defeat in the 1991 final by his former club Red Star Belgrade.

He won two Yugoslav league titles with Red Star as a player and steered Nagoya Grampus Eight to the Japanese league title as coach in 2010, having also played for them between 1994-2001.

His most recent job was a 2015-2020 stint at Chinese top tier side Guangzhou R&F.

(This story refiles to change Thursday to Wednesday in par 8)

Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge