Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia Six Things: solid start for the Serbs

An Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick gave Serbia a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in the Russia 2018 Group E opener – but how did players on both teams perform? Here’s six things from the game.

Costa Rica’s bright start

Costa Rica showed promise early on. Marco Urena latched onto a through ball from Bryan Ruiz to get in behind Nikola Milenkovic and Dusko Tosic and force a save from Vladimir Stojkovic as early as the second minute. Johan Venegas on the left caused problems for Branislav Ivanovic, David Guzman and Celso Borges showed good technical ability and even the centre-backs got forward. Oscar Duarte swung in a wonderful left-wing cross to find Giancarlo Gonzalez, who might have done better than to head off-target amid slapdash Serbian defending. Los Ticos looked a threat when their forward passes were played with accuracy, but as they became more wasteful in possession after the opening quarter-hour, openings dried up.

Serbia strong but static

Serbia had most of the possession in the first half and they weren’t short of attacking talent. The tricky Dusan Tadic tried to win free-kicks and corners off Francisco Calvo down the right, Milinkovic-Savic had an acrobatic effort brilliantly saved by Keylor Navas before the offside flag went up, Adem Ljalic put in some nice deliveries for striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had a physical advantage over Costa Rican centre-backs. However, Mladen Krstajic’s side didn’t maximize their attacking potential due to a lack of movement from deep. Normally the players to provide that would be a full-back or a central midfielder and while Branislav Ivanovic, Aleksandr Kolarov, Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic offered certain qualities, they all lacked the pace and ambition to quicken the build-up play.

Kolarov’s big moment

The creative Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and the selfless Aleksandar Mitrovic linked up nicely in the second half, with the latter denied by Keylor Navas one-on-one early in the second half. Costa Rica wing-backs, Cristian Gamboa and Calvo were forced into unwanted defensive work however and on 56 minutes, Serbia took advantage. Mitrovic won a free-kick which Kolarov, whose fitness had previously been in doubt, hit a wonderful left-footed strike inside the near-post that gave Navas no chance.

Costa Rica’s lack of penetration

Oscar Ramirez used all three changes after seeing his side fall behind, but the first two were like-for-like and perhaps this led to a lack of urgency from his side. Although, Guzman had shown a wide passing range and when he was replaced by forward Daniel Colindres, the team looked even more vulnerable in transition. Christian Bolanos and Joel Campbell tried to make things happen after coming off the bench, but Serbia’s defensive qualities meant the extent of their threat was an off-target long-ranger from Gamboa.

Nothing to lose for Los Ticos

When Costa Rica backed themselves to control proceedings through Guzman and Celso Borges, they looked a reasonable outfit. For too much of this game though, especially while it was goalless, they did not appear to trust themselves to play their natural game, instead more concerned about getting numbers back to combat Serbia’s aerial bombardment. When they play Brazil on Friday, they must of course be organized, but also be brave in possession and have a little more faith in themselves.

Solid start for the Serbs

This was not a perfect opening day performance from Serbia, who still need to find ways of bringing their forwards and wide men into play more often. The power, leadership and battling qualities of Matic and Milivojevic were invaluable in terms of the way they managed the game, but there remains room for improvement.