By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia's new coach Dragan Stojkovic hopes the start of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign will not be affected by COVID-19 quarantines and restrictions, although he said some players may miss this month's games.
The World Cup qualifiers in Europe are set to be heavily affected by clubs refusing to release players for international duty due to quarantines and other restrictions.
Stojkovic, who took over earlier this month after Serbia failed to reach Euro 2020 having lost their playoff final to Scotland on penalties in November, also vowed to raise the bar for his team.
"We are in daily contact with the players and their clubs and at this point I don't expect any problems although there are indications that some of them might miss our opening three games," Stojkovic told a news conference.
"I am confident a solution will be found for them to join us. Either way, we are aiming for nothing less than a maximum nine points and the shambolic performance against Scotland must never happen again while I am in charge."
Serbia open their campaign with home games against Ireland on March 24 and European champions Portugal on March 27 before they visit Azerbaijan three days later. Luxemburg are the other team in Europe's Group A.
Serbia's three France-based players, goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic (Stade de Reims), defender Stefan Mitrovic (Strasbourg) and midfielder Mihailo Ristic (Montpellier) are the most likely to be affected by restrictions.
The French professional league (LFP) has said that Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs will not release foreign players if their national teams are playing outside the European Union (EU) due to the strict COVID-19 quarantine rules.
Stojkovic, a former attacking midfielder who helped the former Yugoslavia reach the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup and Euro 2000, also defended his decision to include out-of-form Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic in his 30-man squad.
"People are right to ask why he’s been called given his poor recent form and limited game time – but I believe in him and I am ready to support him," said Stojkovic.
"He needs to restore his confidence and he can't do that on the sidelines."
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)