This Sunday, we had an excellent World Cup match served for lunch, a battle between two of the smallest participant nations in terms of population, but among the biggest in terms of passion and quality. Serbia ultimately took the three points, beating Costa Rica with a winning free kick by their captain Aleksandar Kolarov.
The Ticos of Costa Rica are no longer a football Cinderella, as they used to be in the previous editions. During the last World Cup in 2014, they wrote probably one of the most beautiful underdog story, as they made their way to the Quarter Finals. Led by their biggest star, goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Las manos de América, they were slowly progressed, game after game, without making much noise.
Most football fans thought that they were going to collapse sooner or later, yet they never did. Only after a penalty shootout against the Netherlands during their Quarter Final match, the Ticos had to pack their luggage and go home.
For Serbia on the other hand, this was a big day. This is only the second World Cup appearance for them as an independent country, and in the recent past the Serbians have had to witness their neighbors Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina performing at a much higher level, collecting Euro Cup and World Cup participations.
But this generation of Serbian footballers is ready to re-write history. Their starting eleven today was a mix of experienced players such as Nemanja Matic (playing with Manchester United), Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), and Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St. Petersburg), together with young talents like Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), and especially Sergej Milinkovic-Savic from Lazio.
The game started as expected, with a very loud and patriotic crowd, each singing aloud their national anthems. But right after kick-off, Serbia gained control, maintained ball possession, and tested Keylor Navas several times. Just like in 2014, Real Madrid’s goaile kept his team alive.
Milinkovic-Savic started to feel more comfortable, acting as a playmaker with short and quick passes, and went close to score what could have been the goal of the tournament, if only Navas had not saved from his incredible overhead kick.
Not much changed in the second half, with Serbia still in control. However, Costa Rica’s counterattacks started to reach the goal defended by Partizan Beograd’s Vladimir Stojkovic. But it was Serbia to eventually take the lead, when in the 56th minute Kolarov turned a free-kick into an astonishing goal. Kolarov, one of those players you can always rely on.
From that moment on, Costa Rica were forced to be more offensive, and tried a few more shots, especially with Bryan Ruiz – their more talented player. Nothing changed, as it was rather Serbia going closer to double their lead – with Aleksandar Mitrovic having two more very clear chances, including a mano a mano with Navas. The final 0-1 puts the Ticos in a complicated situation in Pool E already.
But if there is something the international football community should remember from today’s game, it’s the name of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. This young Serbian born in Spain will be on the agenda of many top European Clubs throughout the summer. It will be difficult for Lazio to keep him in Serie A…
June 17, 2018 – World Cup Group Stage Pool E
COSTA RICA-SERBIA 0-1
SCORER: 56′ Kolarov
|COSTA RICA (5-4-1): Navas; Gamboa, Acosta, Gonzalez, Duarte, Calvo; Ruiz, Borges, Guzman (73’ Colindres), Venegas (60’ Bolanos); Ureña (dal 66’ Campbell) (Pemberton, Moreira, Smith, Oviedo, Waston, Gutierrez, Wallace, Azofeifa, Tejeda) Coach: Ramirez|
|SERBIA (4-2-3-1): Stojkovic; Ivanovic, Milenkovic, Tosic, Kolarov; Milivojevic, Matic; Tadic (82′ Rukavina), Milinkovic Savic, Ljajic (69’ Kostic); Mitrovic (90′ Prijovic) (Rajkovic, Dmitrovic, Spajic, Veljkovic, Rodic, Zivkovic, Grujic, Radonjic, Jovic) Coach: Krstajic|
REFEREE: Dedhiou (Senegal)
NOTES: Attendance: 41432; Yellow Cards: Calvo, Guzman (C), Ivanovic (S)