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Nemanja Matic in a Serbia tracksuit

Matic ready for 'emotional' World Cup debut

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Nemanja Matic is poised for his first appearance in a major international tournament on Sunday afternoon, as his beloved Serbia begin their 2018 World Cup campaign by taking on Costa Rica in Samara.

United’s midfield cornerstone made his bow for the Eagles way back in 2008, when he appeared as a substitute in a friendly against Poland.
Unfortunately, his emergence as one of Europe’s leading midfielders in the following years coincided with a lean period for his national side. Serbia’s last international tournament was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
However, the Reds’ no. 31 believes he and his countrymen are now ready for the challenge that awaits in Russia, after dealing with the weight of expectation upon them during qualifying.
 
“We had a lot of pressure before this qualification, as we didn’t go to Brazil [for the 2014 World Cup] or the last European championship,”
explains Nemanja.
“So there was a lot of pressure on us and it was very important for us to go there directly. We did it and I was very happy.
 
“It was emotional for me and my team-mates and I’m happy we will represent our country in Russia. It’s very nice for our people.”

Matic's stunner at PalaceVideo

After Sunday’s match against Costa Rica, Serbia face Switzerland and the mighty Brazil, and Matic admits the team will need to be at their best to progress to the knockout stages.
 
“I think we will have our chance but we have to do our best, prepare very well and we will see. It is difficult to say [what our chances of progression are]. 
 
“Of course we are working very hard on everything, but there will be a lot of great quality in the tournament. But we are positive. There is a long way to go but I am always positive.”
Nemanja Matic in Under-21 action for Serbia.
A young Nemanja Matic representing his country at Under-21 level.
Brazil are among the favourites to win the tournament and Switzerland performed impressively during qualification – beating European champions Portugal 2-0 in Basel and keeping eight clean sheets in 12 games – but Matic suggests Serbia’s own testing campaign will stand them in good stead.
 
“Every team was, more or less, at the same level, so it was a difficult group for us,”
reflects our midfield colossus.
 
“We had Austria, Georgia and Moldova, as well as Wales and Republic of Ireland. We didn’t have any team that was better than the others. 
 
“But we managed to come first and I’m happy for that, especially when you consider Wales played in the semi-finals of the last Euros. They were only third in the group and I feel my team did well, so I am very happy for that.”

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United fans all over the world will hope that happiness for Matic continues on Sunday, as Serbia’s World Cup finals bid begins.
 
Not that everyone of a Reds persuasion will be passionately behind Serbia, however... manager Jose Mourinho has joked that he hopes the Serbs do not go too far in the tournament, as he wants Nemanja to enjoy a well-deserved rest!