BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia defender Nikola Milenkovic knows he has a huge pair of boots to fill if he is to live up to expectations of emulating the accomplishments of compatriot Nemanja Vidic.
Coach Mladen Krstajic said he saw “a new Vidic,” while fans and pundits also heaped praise on Milenkovic after a pair of rock-solid performances in Serbia’s warm-up games ahead of the World Cup in Russia.
The centre back, who broke into Fiorentina’s first team in the second half of the Serie A season after his 2017 move from Partizan Belgrade, impressed in a 1-0 defeat by Chile followed by a 5-1 rout of Bolivia.
“It is magnificent to be compared to the likes of Vidic and I have to stay humble with both feet firmly on the ground ,” Milenkovic told reporters at Belgrade airport prior to the team’s departure for Russia.
“Vidic was one hell of a player while I am in the fledgling stage of my career and hence I have to keep working hard in order to climb that mountain.
“Krstajic’s praise means so much because it’s an impetus to keep improving.”
Former Serbia and Manchester United captain Vidic made 56 international appearances, having won five Premier League titles and the 2008 Champions League during his eight-year stint at Old Trafford.
He retired in 2016 after an injury-plagued two-year spell at Inter Milan.
Milenkovic, who displayed composure, tenacity and sound ball control in the two friendlies, is likely to be picked in the starting line up for Serbia’s opening Group E match against Costa Rica on Sunday.
The Serbians, who qualified for their second World Cup as an independent nation following a group stage exit in 2010, also play Switzerland on June 17 and Brazil five days later.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Keith Weir