BAKU (Reuters) - Serbia's Aleksandar Mitrovic completed a perfect week for the striker in World Cup qualifying with two more goals to help the Balkan nation to a 2-1 win at Azerbaijan on Tuesday that provisionally kept them top of Group A.
The result left Serbia on seven points from three games, three ahead of Portugal who visit Luxembourg later on Tuesday. Third-placed Luxembourg have three points from one game, while Ireland and Azerbaijan have none from two.
The brace took Mitrovic's tally to five goals in Serbia's opening three qualifiers for the 2022 tournament in Qatar and also extended his all-time leading scoring record for his country to 41 goals in 64 appearances.
Mitrovic, who has struggled at Premier League side Fulham in recent months, said he had never lost confidence he would reap the rewards of his hard work.
"I am the kind of person who doesn't give up easily because I believe in my ability," he told reporters.
"I've not had a good season but I knew the effort I had put in would bear fruit, it was a matter of time. But we must remember this is a result of team work and the atmosphere in the dressing room has never been better.
"Everyone is happy, even the lads who are not in the squad on matchday as they keep roaring us on. This is a very special group and we're delighted to have taken seven points from the opening three games."
Mitrovic fired the Serbians ahead in the 16th minute with a scorching low shot from 15 metres after he took into his stride a fine pass by captain Dusan Tadic, who racked up his fourth assist of the qualifiers.
Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic denied the home side an equaliser when he thwarted Ali Ghorbani in the 30th minute after some sloppy defending by the visitors, who were punished on the hour as they conceded a clumsy penalty.
Filip Kostic clattered into Emin Makhmudov just inside the area and the Azeri midfielder sent Rajkovic the wrong way with a coolly taken spot-kick.
It looked like Serbia would not find a winner after home keeper Shakhruddin Magomedaliyev kept out a Mitrovic sitter in the 74th minute but the 26-year-old Serb had the last laugh with a goal of the highest quality.
Mitrovic let a through ball come onto his weaker left foot before he unleashed a rasping volley from 16 metres into the bottom left corner in the 81st minute, with Magomedaliyev clutching thin air.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Toby Davis)