PODGORICA: An Aleksandar Mitrović brace gave Serbia a 2-0 away win over neighbours Montenegro on Thursday that put them top of their UEFA Nations League group after a scrappy clash between two former regions of Yugoslavia.
The result left Serbia on seven points from three games in League C, Group 4, two ahead of Romania, who won 2-1 at Lithuania. Montenegro have four points and Lithuania none.
The first meeting between Montenegro and Serbia as independent nations since they separated in 2006 was played amid tight security but in a friendly atmosphere with both sets of fans applauding each other’s national anthems.
It was also watched from the VIP box by Manchester United coach José Mourinho, reportedly screening Serbia’s 20-year-old centre-back Nikola Milenković, who is in excellent form for his Serie A club Fiorentina after enjoying a good World Cup.
Serbia dominated the game and should have won by a bigger margin but for some poor finishing by playmaker Dušan Tadić, who squandered two sitters after good work by winger Andrija Zivković and the tireless Mitrović.
Those misses came after in-form Fulham striker Mitrović sent goalkeeper Danijel Petković the wrong way with an 18th-minute spot-kick, after Montenegro right-back Filip Stojković fouled his Red Star Belgrade teammate Milan Rodić.
The Montenegrins upped the pace in the closing stages and their striker Fatos Beciraj forced a good save from Serbia goalkeeper Marko Dmitrović in the 72nd minute with a rasping low shot from 20 metres.
Montenegro’s Serbian coach Ljubisa Tumbaković was sent off by Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi for dissent before Mitrović sealed the contest with a close-range finish in the 81st minute.
Substitute Sergej Milinković-Savić, who has also been linked with a possible future move to United from Lazio, allowed Zivković’s pass to run with a clever dummy, leaving Mitrović with the simple task of beating Petković from three metres.
Serbia next visit Romania while Montenegro are at home to Lithuania on Sunday.