SAMARA: Serbia made a winning start to their 2018 World Cup campaign with a 1-0 win over 2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica in Samara, courtesy of a superb free kick by skipper Aleksandar Kolarov.
Victory was well-earned in a match of contrasting styles though, in the first half, despite enjoying more possess, the Serbs did not look any more dangerous than the Ticos on the break.
Brane Ivanovic made history as Serbia’s record international by winning his 104th cap and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was the liveliest creative forward on the pitch.
Costa Rica might have taken the lead in the 11th minute but Giancarlo Gonzalez jumped too early and popped a ‘free’ header over the bar from a David Guzman cross after a short corner.
Costa Rica’s Francisco Calvo was in the thick of the action. He was booked for a foul on Dusan Tadic but then found an opening outside Serb penalty area and sent a low drive scudding just wide of keeper Vladimir Stojkovic’s right-hand post.
Serbia responded with a spectacular overhead bicycle kick effort from Milinkovic-Savic which was well saved, low down, by Keylor Navas. Milinkovic-Savic was flagged offside but television replays showed he had been in line with the last defenders when Ivanovic played the ball in.
Serbia continued ramping up the pace and the pressure after the interval. Aleksandar Mitrovic hesitated too long when sent clear and Navas saved for a corner. But Real Madrid’s Champions League-winning goalkeeper was well beaten when captain Aleksandar Kolarov scored with a curling right-wing free kick after Mitrovic had been tripped by Guzman.
Mitrovic could have extended the lead but hesitated too long yet again but ultimately, with all Costa Rica’s disorganised attacking frenzy, it did not matter.
Tempers flared in the closing minutes with Serb sub Prijovic being shown a yellow card, after a VAR referral, for throwing a hand back into the face of Johnny Acosta.