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Serbia break a 20-year hoodoo with 1-0 win over Costa Rica

Serbia 1 (Kolarov 56’)
Costa Rica 0

By Laurence Kelson

Serbia have broken a 20-year hoodoo by winning their opening match at a World Cup for the first time since 1998, and handed Costa Rica their first group stage defeat since 2006.

Serbia’s captain (and man-of-the-match), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), scored in the 56th minute with a stunning 25 yard free kick from outside the box that hit the top right corner and left Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas (Real Madrid) clutching at thin air.

The match in Samara started off at a frantic pace, and Costa Rica got their best scoring opportunity of the game in the 11th minute. A Johan Venegas cross found defender Giancarlo Gonzalez, who was unmarked at the back post, but he sent the header flying over the crossbar.

From that point on Serbia went on to become the more dominant team, and by half-time they had 62 per cent possession.

Serbia’s dominance continued into the second half became more aggressive and played higher up the pitch.

Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United) looked destined to score in the 50th minute when he latched on to a through pass from Serbia’s 23-year-old midfield wunderkind Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio) to find himself one-on-one with Keylor Navas, but an uncharacteristically poor shot saw a goal go begging.

Continual pressure from Serbia resulted in an inspired run from Milinkovic-Savic (who starred in his World Cup debut with three passes leading to clear shots on goal) in the 55th minute that drew a poor challenge from Costa Rican midfielder David Guzman. Guzman received a yellow card and Koralov stepped up to thump home the match winner from the resulting free kick.

From that point on Serbia were content to defend their 1-0 lead, and they allowed Costa Rica the majority of possession for the final third of the match.

A lack of creativity in attack from Costa Rica saw them struggle to find an equaliser. Los Ticos were too willing to rely on putting high balls into the box through crosses, free kicks and corners. Serbia, being the tallest team in the World Cup (185.6cm average height), were able to deal with the threat easily.

Serbia had issues with their discipline late in the game, with Nemanja Matic (Manchester United) wrestling with a member of Costa Rican coaching staff over a loose ball and replacement striker Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK) pushing a defender in the face. Luckily for Serbia neither instance resulted in a red card.

Serbian coach Mladen Krstajic praised his team’s unity but insisted they need to remain focused, while Costa Rican Coach Oscar Ramirez conceded that Los Ticos have a tough journey ahead.

“We play against the second (Brazil) and sixth (Switzerland) placed teams…it’s going to be difficult,” Ramirez said.

Serbia now sit atop Group E and will look to lock-in a round-of-16 birth with a win against a strong Swiss outfit (23rd of June 4am AEST), while Costa Rica will play Brazil (22nd June 10pm AEST) in a must-win match for both teams.

Match Statistics

Serbia, 50%
Costa Rica, 50%

Pass accuracy
Serbia, 83%
Costa Rica, 83%

Yellow cards
Serbia: Ivanovic (59’), Prijovic (90’+8)
Costa Rica: Calvo (22’), Guzman (56’)

Shots on goal (on target)
Serbia: 10 (3)
Costa Rica: 10 (3)

Serbia: 4
Costa Rica: 5

Team line-ups

Costa Rica: (4-5-1)1 Navas (GK), 2 Acosta, 3 Gonzalez, 5 Borges, 6 Duarte, 10 Ruiz (c), 11 Venegas (60’), 15 Calvo, 16 Gamboa, 20 Guzman (73’), 21 Ureña (66’)
Substitutes: 4 Smith, 7 Bolanos (60’), 8 Oviedo, 9 Colindres (73’), 12 Campbell (66’), 13 Wallace, 14 Azofeifa, 17 Tejeda, 18 Pemberton (GK), 19 Watson, 22 Gutierrez, 23 Moreira

Serbia: (4-3-2-1) 1 Stojkovic (GK), 3 Tosic, 4 Milivojevic, 6 Ivanovic, 9 Mitrovic (90’), 10 Tadic (83’), 11 Koralov (c), 15 Milekovic, 20 Milinkovic-Savic, 22 Ljajic (70’)
Substitutes: 2 Rukavina (83’), 5 Spajic, 7 Zivkovic, 8 Prijovic (90’), 12 Rajkovic (GK), 13 Veljkovic, 14 Rodic, 16 Grujic, 17 Kostic (70’), 18 Radonjic, 19 Jovic, 23 Dimitrovic (GK)

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