BELGRADE (Reuters) - Axed by Serbia after they failed to reach the Euro 2016 finals, Dusan Tadic is enjoying a new lease of life in international football and has propelled the Balkan nation to top spot in their 2018 World Cup qualifying group.
The Southampton winger has scored three and set up the other five goals for Serbia in their three Group D games so far, leading the way in Sunday's 3-2 home win over Austria with a goal and two assists.
Tadic's Serbia career had looked all but over after former coach Radovan Curcic dropped him for friendlies against Poland and Estonia in March, leading the winger to walk away from the international setup.
Slavoljub Muslin, who took over in May, held out an olive branch when he recalled the 27-year-old and Tadic has made the most of a second chance to shine for his country.
"I almost burst into tears when the whole stadium started chanting my name at the end of the game," Tadic told reporters after the pulsating win over Austria.
"It doesn't matter who's getting the assists and the goals, the important thing is that we are winning. Muslin has deployed the right strategy and we're only going to get better."
Tadic is thriving in a revamped 3-4-3 formation as a right-sided forward playing behind striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, with Filip Kostic on the other flank.
The role has given him more freedom in attack and Serbia have reaped the rewards, topping the group on seven points from three games, ahead of Ireland on goal difference.
Tadic, however, was quick to highlight that Serbia, who have not qualified for a major tournament since the 2010 World Cup, still had a long way to go in the World Cup campaign.
"It's a tough group where anyone can beat anyone and we are looking at seven very difficult matches."
Serbia's next qualifier is a tough fixture away to Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales on Nov. 12.
Editing by John O'Brien