A dazzling free-kick from Aleksandar Kolarov was all Serbia needed to secure a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in their 2018 World Cup Group E opener.
Though Mladen Krstajic’s talented side thoroughly merited their point they made heavy weather of defeating Costa Rica, who had proven to be a hard nut to crack at the last World Cup and had grown no more supplicant over the past four years.
Serbia dictated the terms of the game but time and again struggled to carve apart Costa Rica’s disciplined backline. Notwithstanding having minimal possession, it was Los Ticos who went closest in an exciting first-half, center-back Giancarlo González twice guiding unmarked headers into the arms of Vladimir Stojkovic.
On the one occasion Serbia did get in behind, Milinkovic-Savic had moved a few seconds too early and was flagged offside. He did not test Keylor Navas anyway with a tame shot that was all too easy for the Real Madrid goalkeeper.
Mitrovic’s upbeat endeavor earned Serbia a free-kick 28 or so yards out with 56 minutes played as he forced David Guzman to drag him down. The cost of that foul was far more than just a booking as Kolarov whipped a sizzling strike into the top right corner.
That goal forced Costa Rica to display hereto forth concealed attacking guile, with Arsenal’s forgotten man Joel Campbell thrown on as Los Ticos chased an equalizer. He almost found a way in behind on 72 minutes but took a heavy first touch in the area, letting Nikola Milenkovic steal in.
Serbia couldn’t kill the match off at the other end, where Navas’ fingertips took a Dusan Tadic cross off Filip Kostic’s toe, but in truth, it never looked like they would need more than a single goal to win this game.
This article was most recently revised and updated 2 weeks ago