Serbia name caretaker Krstajic as permanent coach

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Mladen Krstajic has been named Serbia coach on a permanent basis after a two-month period as their caretaker, the Balkan nation’s Football Association (FSS) sports director Goran Bunjevcevic said on Friday.

“The FSS board of experts has definitively picked Krstajic to stay in charge until the end of the team’s World Cup campaign,” Bunjevcevic told Belgrade’s Beta news agency.

“We will reveal the details of the contract and organise an official event to announce it in the second half of January.”

Former Yugoslavia defender Krstajic took over in October from Slavoljub Muslin after the latter had steered Serbia to next year’s World Cup finals, their first major tournament as an independent nation in eight years.

Despite his accomplishment, Muslin was axed by the FSS as Serbia’s performances under him were deemed unconvincing and he also came to loggerheads with his bosses over refusing to inject fresh blood into the side.

Krstajic did exactly that in Serbia’s 2-0 win over China and a 1-1 draw with South Korea in November’s friendlies, having unleashed a pack of young players headed by sought-after Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

The 22-year-old playmaker has been in impressive form for the Serie A club since he joined them from Belgian side Genk in 2015, but Muslin argued he was incompatible with his rigid 3-4-3 formation which worked for the national side in the qualifiers.

Serbia, who advanced from Europe’s Group D ahead of Ireland and Wales, were drawn alongside five-time World Cup winners Brazil, Switzerland and Costa Rica in Group E of the 32-team tournament in Russia.

They start their campaign against Costa Rica in Samara on June 17, Krstajic’s competitive debut as head coach at any level, followed by games with Swizterland in Kaliningrad on June 22 and Brazil in Moscow five days later.

Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Christian Radnedge