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African dreams rest on Serbian’s shoulders

Africa's dalliance with heavyweight coaches having failed spectacularly, the continent is now looking to a Serbian no-name for succour. Step forward, Milovan Rajevac, reports Dhiman Sarkar.

sports Updated: Jun 28, 2010 01:44 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Dhiman Sarkar
Hindustan Times

Africa's dalliance with heavyweight coaches having failed spectacularly, the continent is now looking to a Serbian no-name for succour. Step forward, Milovan Rajevac.

Quiet, self-effacing and not seeming the man who forced Sulley Muntari into apologising before national team reinstatement, this 56-year-old coach is never at press conferences without translator Nenad Glisic. “The media is demanding in Ghana and it's important that his comments are correctly understood,” said Glisic, who came to Ghana with Rajevac.

Having been through an emotional wringer of a World Cup debut, Rajevac seemed almost apologetic at beating Serbia. And all his post-match interactions begin with praise for his opponents, two of whom Ghana have defeated.

It was only when someone asked Rajevac how it felt to be to have survived a test that Carlos Alberto Perreira, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Lars Lagerback failed, did he publicly show a streak of self-pride. But even seeking to inform the questioner of earlier successes wasn't without crediting people he had learnt from.

“My career took off five years ago when I got success in Serbia with two clubs. I got one of them to play in Europe. I have also learnt a lot from the people I worked with, like Bora Milutinovic. When this opportunity came, I seized it. I have been going from success to success over the past five years. But, of course, this is huge and I am overwhelmed,” Rajevac said.

Outside the press conference tent, Milutinovic, his conversation in Serbian with Glisic constantly interrupted by journalists seeking a reaction, joked about not knowing him. Glisic said Rajevac was Milutinovic's assistant at Al-Sadd club in Qatar.

The Serbian clubs in question are FK Vojvodina, whom Rajevac coached in 2006-07 to the domestic cup final and a second-place finish in the league, and Borak Cacak, the club he took to the UEFA Cup.

Rajevac took over in August 2008, and since then has created an excellent blend of youth and experience; a team that has learnt to live without Michael Essien. Another senior, Sulley Muntari, was left out of the African Cup of Nations for disciplinary reasons. All the players have to earn their places.

Sammy Inkoom and was one of those who came of age at that tournament where Ghana used a number of players who won the world U-20 championship last October. Five of them including Andre Ayew, voted Man of the Match in the pre-quarter final against USA here on Saturday, are here at the World Cup.

“We are playing better than we did four years ago. We are tactically more sound and technically better. All this is due to the coach. The players respect him,” says Ayew.

Asked if being the cynosure of a continent can be counter-productive ahead of a first-ever quarter-final, Rajevac said: “Let's not focus on what others are saying. The only place for players to say something is the pitch.”

Words of a man who seems quietly confident. Having made Ghana one of the eight wonders of this World Cup, Rajevac can't be denied that.

First Published: Jun 28, 2010 01:37 IST