BELGRADE: A 2-1 defeat by Portugal has left Serbia with only a slim hope of reaching Euro 2016 after Nemanja Matic provided the only beacon of light in another lacklustre qualifying performance by the Balkan nation.
The Chelsea midfielder capped a fine individual display with a breathtaking equaliser at the La Luz stadium on Sunday, unleashing an unstoppable overhead volley to briefly cancel out Ricardo Carvalho`s opener.
But the visitors conceded two minutes later to stay joint bottom of Group I with Armenia on one point from four games halfway through the qualifying campaign, souring the competitive debut of their new coach Radovan Curcic.
"We were poor in the first half but improved in the second and that`s how we should play in the rest of our campaign," Matic told reporters after his team failed to trouble the Portuguese defence.
"We will not give up until there is a mathematical chance."
Matic`s Chelsea team mate Branislav Ivanovic, who left Carvalho unmarked for the first goal and failed to cut out a low cross when Fabio Coentrao netted the winner, was also upbeat about Serbia`s chances.
"We have to win an away game now and I am confident that three victories from the remaining four matches could clinch us a playoff spot," said Ivanovic.
"The next game away to Denmark is crucial and we simply have to stop conceding goals from set pieces as dead ball situations are supposed to be our strength and not a chink in the armour."
Judging by their current form though, Serbia might struggle to turn around their fortunes.
A talented team, with six starters who ply their trade in the Premier League, again looked less than the sum of its parts with Ivanovic, a preferred right back at Chelsea, struggling as a central defender.
Wingers Lazar Markovic and Dusan Tadic failed to make any impact as did substitute Filip Djuricic, while left back Aleksandar Kolarov could not hold his own on the flank.
Curcic, who took over from Dutchman Dick Advocaat in November, acknowledged most of his key players had underperformed.
"I can`t question anyone`s commitment but some of the players were below par," he said.
"We have a thin squad and can`t afford to replace any of the senior team members because we can`t choose from 50 or 100 players at this level."
Portugal top the group with nine points from four games, followed by Denmark and Albania who have seven each from four.