Serbia surged to a deserved 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in their World Cup group E opener on Sunday afternoon, giving the White Eagles a strong start to the tournament at the Samara Arena.
Former Manchester City stalwart Aleksandar Kolarov gave his side the lead midway through the second half, with a trademark free kick from distance. In a game of wasted opportunities, Costa Rica did little to force a chance for an equaliser, which saw them sink to a dispiriting defeat.
Serbia started the game with attacking intent, winning a corner almost immediately after lumping the ball up to star striker Aleksandar Mitrović. The Newcastle United man almost scored from the resulting set piece, as Costa Rica scrambled the ball off the line. Los Ticos then launched an impressive counter-attack, as the game set a relentless pace.
Costa Rica had the first shot on target soon after, as Giancarlo González headed a fine cross straight into Vladimir Stojković's gloves from twelve yards out. White Eagles man Kolarov then launched an speculative effort towards goal from distance, which whizzed aimlessly past Keylor Navas's far post.
González then missed a sitter for Costa Rica, as the Serbian defence were caught napping and he guided a header from an unmarked position agonisingly wide of the target. Mitrović then drew a comfortable save from Navas, as the end to end game continued to serve up an abundance of opportunities to both sides.
As the half approached the midway point, Mitrović continued to cause the Costa Rican defence problems with his bullish approach to attacking play. The frenetic pace began to lessen, as both sides began to pace themselves after the gung-ho start. Francisco Calvo then made a smart run to the edge of the box, but dragged is shot wide of Stojković's near post.
HALF TIME: Costa Rica 0-0 Serbia - Serbia have looked the more dominant, with a couple half-chances to show for. Still goalless, but miles better than yesterday's Croatia Vs Nigeria snooze-fest...— 90min (@90min_Football) June 17, 2018
Both sides started the second half tentatively, with the consequences of a first game loss clearly weighing their minds. Mitrović then spurned a glorious opportunity to score. After finding himself one-on-one with Navas after a divine through ball from Sergej Milinković-Savić, the striker scuffed his shot straight at the sprawling Real Madrid man and behind for a corner.
Serbia started to pile the pressure on their opponents, with their technically gifted midfielders starting to pull Costa Rica apart with a series of intricate passing moves. Kolarov then brought the game to life in the 55th minute, bending a trademark free kick into the top corner from 25 yards out - with Navas helpless against the sublime strike.
Kolarov with his rocket left-foot over the wall right into the top corner! BOOM!— 90min (@90min_Football) June 17, 2018
Costa Rica had no choice but to take the game to their opponents in search of an equaliser, but the stubborn Serbia defence saw their endeavours continually thwarted. The previously rampant Los Ticos faithful in the stadium were notably more subdued, as their side continued to struggle to force an equaliser.
Substitute Joel Campbell gave his side an injection of pace and excitement, as the clock ticked on into the final fifteen minutes. Serbia substitute Filip Kostić then missed a chance to put his side 2-0 up, after completely mistiming a close range effort resulting from a flowing Serbia moving.
Despite a late rally from the South Americans, Serbia held strong as ground out the win, giving them a precious three points to take into their second group game. The odds are now firmly stacked against Costa Rica to progress to the knockout rounds, with Oscar Ramírez's side now needing a big result against either Brazil or Switzerland to recover the lost ground.