Aleksandar Kolarov’s brilliant second-half free-kick saw Serbia beat Costa Rica 1-0 in their opening Group E contest on Sunday afternoon
The Serbs won the game thanks to captain Kolarov’s wonderful strike 11 minutes into the second half, the third direct free-kick already at this World Cup.
Mladen Krstajic’s side held out comfortably thereafter in Samara to get their campaign off to a winning start, with Costa Rica lacking the cutting edge to really threaten their opponents.
Costa Rica: Navas (7), Acosta (6), Gonzalez (6), Duarte (6), Borges (7), Calvo (6), Gamboa (6), Guzman (6), Ruiz (7), Venegas (6), Urena (6)
Subs: Campbell (6), Bolanos (6), Colindres (6)
Serbia: Stojkovic (7), Tosic (6), Ivanovic (7), Kolarov (8), Milenkovic (7), Milivojevic (6), Milinkovic-Savic (9), Matic (8), Mitrovic (7), Tadic (7), Ljajic (6)
Subs: Rukavina (6), Kostic (7), Prijovic (6)
Man of the match: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
In a tight and evenly-matched first half, it was Costa Rica who created the best opening before the break, only for unmarked centre-back Giancarlo Gonzalez to head wastefully over the bar after a nicely worked short corner.
Serbia controlled large parts of the opening 45 minutes, although the closest they came to actually breaking the deadlock was an acrobatic overhead kick from Aleksandar Mitrovic a minute before the interval.
Mitrovic’s effort produced a smart reaction stop from Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas and despite the flag going up for offside, the Newcastle United forward’s audacious effort would in fact have stood had it gone in and been referred to VAR.
Serbia really should have opened the scoring five minutes after the break, only for Mitrovic to fluff the chance, having been played clean through by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s astute pass.
However, that miss was soon forgotten as Kolarov – who almost did not make the game after picking up a leg injury in the warm-up – beat Navas from distance.
Serbia could have further extended their lead, only for substitute Filip Kostic to somehow fail to make proper contact with Dusan Tadic’s centre, before Mitrovic again failed to hit the target after being released by Milinkovic-Savic’s through ball.
Zenit right-back Branislav Ivanovic became his country’s most-capped player after making his 104 international appearance, while both Aleksandar Kolarov and Aleksandar Mitrovic started.
Costa Rica had Real Madrid No 1 Keylor Navas available after a recent minor knock, while both Giancarlo Gonzalez and Oscar Duarte featured in the Central Americans’ back line.
And the low-key contest ended with drama when Malang Diedhiou used VAR to decide if Nemanja Matic and then substitute Aleksandar Prijovic should be sent off, but the Senegalese official deemed neither worthy of a red.
- After losing five consecutive World Cup games between 1998 and 2010, Serbia have since won two of their last three in the competition (L1)
- Serbia have won their opening game at a World Cup tournament for the first time since 1998, when they did so as Yugoslavia against Iran (1-0)
- Serbia have now won all four of their World Cup games against teams from the CONCACAF region, with the first three of those coming as Yugoslavia between 1950 and 1998
- Costa Rica suffered their first defeat at the World Cup since 2006 (1-2 v Poland), ending a run of five games unbeaten in the competition (W2 D3)
- This is just the second time in five World Cup tournament appearances that Costa Rica have lost their opening game, with the previous instance coming in 2006 at the hands of tournament hosts Germany (2-4)
- Aleksandar Kolarov’s strike was the first direct free-kick scored by a Serbia/Yugoslavia player at a World Cup tournament since 1998, when Sinisa Mihajlovic netted against Iran
- Costa Rica had two shots on target in the opening three minutes, then didn’t manage another until the 91st minute
- Costa Rica named their oldest ever starting XI in a World Cup match (29y 346d), beating their previous record by one day (29y 345d v Ecuador in 2006)
Man of the Match – Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
All eyes were on the Serbia midfielder at the Samara Arena after he was reportedly linked with a big-money move to Man Utd next season.
However, the Lazio star did not disappoint with an enterprising display against Costa Rica, and Serbia would have won this contest far easier, and earlier, had they taken any of the chances he laid on for his team-mates.
In particular, it was Mitrovic who spurned the two best openings after the break, both of which were laid on a plate for the misfiring Newcastle forward by the 23-year-old’s inch-perfect through balls.
Costa Rica take on Brazil in St Petersburg on Friday lunchtime, while Serbia face Switzerland in Kaliningrad later that day.