Can Al Hilal hotshot Mitrovic fire Serbia's Euro 2024 bid?

Coming into the UEFA European Championship Germany 2024, Aleksandar Mitrovic was as close to a goal guarantee as you could get.

The powerful Serbia striker enjoyed a sublime debut season in the Roshn Saudi League, proving last summer’s protracted move to Al Hilal from English Premier League club Fulham was worth it. Obviously keen to make up for lost time, Mitrovic promptly set about firing his new side to the 2023-24 RSL title. They did so in record-breaking fashion, too.

Mitrovic, 29, was fundamental to the success. He scored on RSL debut, grabbing the opener in the 4-0 victory at Al Raed in Matchweek 3 and, from there, he never looked back. Two rounds later, there was the hat-trick hero in the extraordinary comeback at then-champions Al Ittihad, the first a spectacular, right-football volley as Al Hilal turned around the contest to triumph 4-3.

Then there was a double in the 3-0 win in the top-of-the-table clash with Al Nassr in Matchweek 15, part of a prolific run in front of goal in which Mitrovic mined goals in 11 successive RSL matches. During that red-hot spell, he found the net 13 times.

In March, he struck another brace in another 4-3 thriller, Al Hilal taking yet more Riyadh bragging rights, this time away to Al Shabab. While a hamstring injury in that game kept Mitrovic out of three league matches, he returned to score six more times in the final six rounds – including a 100th-minute penalty in the corresponding fixture at Al Nassr last month.

The spot-kick maintained Al Hilal’s unbeaten domestic season, a feat they completed for the entire campaign. In the end, Mitrovic concluded a first season in the Kingdom with 28 goals in 28 RSL appearances, bettered only by Cristiano Ronaldo. Less than 10 months in, he was a Saudi Arabian champion.

Not only that, but Mitrovic and his teammates made history, setting single-season records for most points (96), highest win rate (94 percent), highest goals-per-match average (2.97) and greatest margin of points in their title victory (14).

And Mitrovic had an individual slice of history to go with the collective: no one had ever scored more goals for Al Hilal in a single league season.

So, he entered Euro 2024 with much expected. Granted, Serbia were drawn in a Group C that included England, Denmark and Slovenia, but with their hotshot frontman and another Al Hilal record-breaker in Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the East Europeans were hopeful of making the knockout phase for the first time under the Serbia banner.

Especially given Mitrovic resides as the country’s all-time leading scorer, with 58 goals.

However, two rounds into the tournament in Germany, he has yet to swell that tally. In the opener against England, Mitrovic captained Dragan Stojkovic’s side, but could not prevent Serbia from losing 1-0. Their skipper did have chances.

Not long after Jude Bellingham’s 13th-minute goal, Mitrovic fired narrowly wide when well-placed; then, right on the hour, a combination of Jordan Pickford and Kieran Trippier prevented the former Newcastle United man from levelling the score.

Four days later, in the Matchday Two encounter with Albania, Mitrovic was once more in the thick of the action. In first-half stoppage-time, opposition goalkeeper Jan Oblak made a fine block at his feet, while minutes after the break Oblak again denied the Al Hilal forward with another excellent stop.

Later, with Albania now 1-0 up, Mitrovic saw his final effort deflected onto the crossbar. Yet, he would finish the match in celebration; Luka Jovic headed home the equaliser five minutes into injury-time.

Serbia had a point, and life was breathed into their Euro 2024 campaign. Although bottom of the group, they sit only a point behind Denmark in second heading into their Matchday Three test against the 1992 champions.

The Allianz Arena in Munich therefore provides the perfect setting on Tuesday, with Serbia knowing a win will take them into the last 16. Mitrovic, with his seven unsuccessful attempts thus far in two games, has shown this past season how much he thrives on the big stage.

There would be no better timing, then, for Al Hilal’s tenacious goal getter to finally get off the mark.