Serbia tries to ease tensions before Croatia game

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) -Serbia coach Sinisa Mihajlovic tried to ease tensions Saturday ahead of a World Cup qualifier against bitter Balkan rival Croatia, saying his players should relax and enjoy the match that will be played under tight security.

The game on Friday in the Croatian capital of Zagreb will be the first between the two former Yugoslav nations, which were at war in the 1990s.

Fearing clashes between rival Balkan hooligans, Croatian authorities said they will tighten the security in and around Maksimir stadium and on roads leading to Zagreb to enforce a ban on Serbian fans traveling to the match. The ban was agreed between the two countries' football associations.

Mihajlovic said his players should relax and keep "cool heads" despite the tensions.

"This is a derby primarily because of our (wartime) past," Mihajlovic said. "We'll be going there to enjoy the match. After all, football is only a game."

Croatia and Belgium share the lead in their qualification group with 10 points, six more than Serbia. Group A also includes Scotland, Wales and Macedonia.

Mihajlovic said Croatia is favored to win on Friday because it has more experienced players. But, he said, Serbia won't surrender without a fight.

"We should be calm because we know we can beat anyone," he said. However, he added with a grin: "But, we can also lose against anyone."

Mihajlovic announced his squad on Saturday, which shows Serbia's strength is a defense that includes Manchester City's Matija Nastasic and Aleksandar Kolarov, Cheslea's Branislav Ivanovic and Neven Subotic of Borussia Dortmund, while also exposing weaknesses in midfield and attack.

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Serbia squad:

Goalkeepers: Zeljko Brkic (Udinese), Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Branimir Aleksic (Spartak Subotica.)

Defense: Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea), Neven Subotic (Borussia Dortmund), Matija Nastasic (Manchester City), Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Antonio Rukavina (Valladolid), Milan Bisevac (Lyon), Nenad Tomovic (Fiorentina), Slobodan Rajkovic (Hamburg), Dusan Basta (Udinese).

Midfield: Aleksandar Ignjovski (Werder Bremen), Ivan Radovanovic (Atalanta), Ljubomir Fejsa (Olympiakos), Radosav Petrovic (Genclerbirligi), Zdravko Kuzmanovic (Inter Molan), Luka Milivojevic (Red Star Belgrade), Zoran Tosic (CSKA Moscow), Alen Stevanovic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Twente), Nenad Krsticic (Sampdoria).

Forwards: Filip Djuricic (Heerenveen), Filip Djordjevic (Nantes), Nikola Djurdjic (Greuther Fuerth), Marko Scepovic (Partizan Belgrade).

Copyright 2014 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
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