Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic is defusing tension ahead of next next month's World Cup qualifier in Zagreb against Croatia. The bitter memories of Balkan conflicts that tore the former Yugoslavia apart should take a back seat to soccer, says the 44-year-old former international, who won the European Cup with Red Star Belgrade in 1991 shortly before Yugoslavia's violent breakup.
"The match with Croatia will be a game of soccer and not war and it won't be a problem," Mihajlovic said. "I expect my players to deal with the occasion the right way because those soccer players who can't take the pressure of high-profile games should get into another line of work, like office jobs.
"My players have to believe in themselves and be confident about how good they are. I wish we could play matches against the likes of Croatia in front of a full house every week because that's the quickest and best way for players to mature.
The teams have never met as independent nations. Croatian authorities vowed to deploy a record number of police and both federations agreed to allocate no tickets for their away fans in either game of the series. The return leg scheduled for Sept. 6 in Belgrade.