| BELGRADE, July 31
BELGRADE, July 31 The coaches of bitter Balkan
rivals Serbia and Croatia were confident their teams would reach
the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil after they were drawn
together in a tough European qualifying Group A.
The two states that emerged from a bloody conflict in the
former Yugoslavia in the 1990s will lock horns for the first
time as independent nations, having been drawn alongside
Belgium, Scotland, Macedonia and Wales.
"I can't be overjoyed with the draw because it's a difficult
and delicately balanced group with four teams vying for just one
automatic berth in the finals," Serbia coach Vladimir Petrovic
told Belgrade media on Sunday.
"Apart from ourselves and Croatia, Belgium and Scotland are
in with a realistic chance but Serbia is the only team in that
quartet to have reached the 2010 finals in South Africa and
hence we will start as favourites.
"We must not underestimate Macedonia either, while Wales are
surely the strongest bottom-seeded team so every game in this
group will be a real challenge.
"But the two matches with Croatia will be the pick of the
lot because they are our biggest rivals and these clashes will
have all the makings of a derby," said Petrovic.
His Croatia opposite number Slaven Bilic, who said earlier
he would step down after Euro 2012, did not rule out the
possibility of changing his mind.
"Of course the idea of being in charge of Croatia against
Serbia is thrilling but right now, my only concern is to see
that we qualify for the Euro 2012 finals in Poland and Ukraine,"
Bilic told Croatian media.
"Games like that will come to fans as much more than
football for some time to come, because the atmosphere in the
terraces is quite specific.
"It's a tough group and it shows why European qualifiers are
the most unforgiving international competition, but there is a
reason why we are the top-seeded team in our group.
"It's because we are the best team in the group and we have
no reason to fear anyone, so I am confident that we can get
through it and qualify," said Bilic, who steered Croatia to the
Euro 2008 quarter-finals.
Europe's nine group winners and the best second-placed team
will qualify automatically while the other eight runners-up will
enter a two-leg playoff for the remaining four berths.
(Editing by Alastair Himmer. To query or comment on this
story email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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