BELGRADE (Reuters) - The form of defensive midfielder Nemanja Matic will be crucial to Serbia’s hopes of making an impact at the World Cup in Russia as the Balkan nation aims to reach the tournament’s last 16 for the first time as an independent nation.
The 29-year-old Manchester United enforcer has been one of the most consistent performers in his first season at the club and has often been singled out by manager Jose Mourinho as one of the team’s pillars.
Having moved to Old Trafford from Chelsea’s title-winning side, Matic hit the ground running at United, immediately establishing himself as the linchpin between defense and attack.
Matic may lack the quick feet and sublime passing of the world’s most talented midfielders but a plethora of other assets make him Serbia’s pivotal player.
A calming presence in the heat of battle, ball-winner Matic possesses an eye for goal and is highly effective at both ends with his ability to break up the opposition’s attack, unleash fast breaks and crack in an occasional long-range effort.
His height of 1.94 meters also makes him a telling factor in aerial battles but it is his unflappable character which prompts team mates to look up to him.
Cold-shouldered by former coach Sinisa Mihajlovic in Serbia’s failed 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Matic and his compatriots also did not make it to Euro 2016.
Matic, however, emerged as one of the stalwarts in qualifying for this year’s World Cup as Serbia’s fortunes changed, with winger Dusan Tadic and striker Aleksandar Mitrovic also earning plaudits for their playmaking and scoring exploits.
Former Serbia and Manchester United captain Nemanja Vidic once described team mate Michael Carrick as “the glue that holds it all together” in a United team packed with world-class talent.
Matic, now in his prime, has assumed that role for club and country.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis