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BC-SOC--Germany-Weekend Watch

March 18, 2019
Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Eintracht Frankfurt has reached the Europa League quarterfinals and is closing in on Champions League qualification.

Luka Jovic has played a huge role in both.

The 21-year-old Serbia forward has emerged as one of Europe’s most exciting players, scoring 15 goals in the Bundesliga and ensuring Frankfurt’s progress in the Europa League with a lob over Inter Milan goalkeeper Samir Handanovic in a 1-0 win.

“I’ve rarely seen a player that is so dangerous in the box, whether with his feet, in the air or with his head,” Frankfurt coach Adi Huetter said in October after Jovic scored five goals in a 7-1 rout of Fortuna Duesseldorf. “He’s a complete player.”

In the Europa League, Frankfurt next faces Benfica, from where Jovic arrived on loan in 2017. There is little doubt that the Germam club will make use of its option to seek a permanent deal for a reported fee of about 10 million euros ($11.5 million).

“It’s a really good deal for Eintracht Frankfurt,” sporting director Bruno Huebner has said.

Only Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski has more goals (18) than Jovic in the Bundesliga so far. But Jovic has also set up seven league goals, while his strike against Inter brought his Europa League tally to seven.

Jovic will next have another chance to impress on Wednesday when Germany hosts Serbia in a friendly.

“He’s a classic striker who’s excellent on the ball and has a great understanding of the game,” Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic said. “He’s determined and dangerous at all times because he always awaits his chance and can pounce on the slightest mistake from his opponent.”

With the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Chelsea interested in signing the young striker, Krstajic said Jovic has the capability to succeed at a bigger club.

“I only want the best for him and the best possible success,” the Serbia coach said. “It’s clear he has enormous potential.”

Jovic, born in the village of Batar, south of Bijeljina in Bosnia, was spotted playing in a local youth league by a scout from Red Star Belgrade, which invited him for a trial. The club paid his travel expenses for the 150-kilometer (95-mile) trip east to the Serbian capital.

Crosstown rival Partizan Belgrade was also interested, even making an offer to Jovic’s father Milan, but he stuck with his favorite childhood team and became its youngest ever scorer when he netted three minutes into his debut on the final day of the 2013-14 Serbian league season.

Red Star had already won the league, and Jovic, at 16 years, 5 months, 5 days, grabbed the equalizer in a 3-3 draw with FK Vojvodina Novi Sad.

Jovic would go on to win another league title with Red Star before moving in January 2016 to Portugal, where he struggled to break through at Benfica, prompting his loan switch to Germany.

It was there that Niko Kovac - now Bayern Munich coach but then in charge at Frankfurt - helped coax the best from the player.

“In one month in Frankfurt I ran more than in an entire year in Lisbon,” Jovic told the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. “I just needed someone like Niko Kovac to wake me up. He demands the maximum and gets the maximum out of someone.”

Playing mostly as a substitute, Jovic scored eight goals in 22 league appearances in his first full season in 2017-18, when he helped Frankfurt reach the German Cup final with a back-heel winner in the semifinals against Schalke. Though Jovic didn’t play, Frankfurt went on to beat Bayern in the final.

Jovic had done enough to earn a World Cup call-up for Serbia. After making his debut is debut in a friendly against Chile, he played against Brazil at the World Cup.

This season, under Huettler, is going even better.

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