Second half free-kick gives Serbia victory over Costa Rica

Brenda Watkins
June 17, 2018

He challenged Navas in the 27th minute from just outside the box, but Navas fell on the ball.

Here are five things we learned from the first game of Group E.

It's a daunting enough task playing or managing at the World Cup with eyes from around the globe on you, but Serbia manager Mladen Krstajić would have had extra reason for being nervous.

Taking over as full-time Serbia coach in December 2017, Krstajić was taking charge of his first competitive game as manager both of Serbia and in general.

Costa Rica advanced out of the group stage in Brazil with victories over Uruguay and Italy and a draw with England, but the country's players insisted in the run-up to Sunday's game that this team should not be judged on the past.

Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic, who replaced Slavoljub Muslin a year ago, put together a veteran defence with Kolarov and former Chelsea player Branislav Ivanovic.

And even the offensive changes, which saw Christian Bolanos, Joel Campbell and Daniel Colindres come on, could not help them get through the Serbian defence which may have looked vulnerable on paper.

While Serie A was undoubtedly one of the most exciting leagues in Europe last season, with its tense race for the title and top four, it unfortunately does not have the audience of some of the continents' bigger leagues.

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Calvo sent a low strike wide as Costa Rica threatened again before Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic combined to find Milinkovic-Savic, whose overhead kick was saved by Navas with the flag up in any case.

Five minutes into the second half Aleksander Mitrovic had a golden opportunity to score when he broke into the box and was left with only the keeper to beat, but Keylor Navas pulled off a great stop to deny him.

The goal also represented a new record in this World Cup.

The Roma defender made the crucial breakthrough early in the second half with a magnificent effort, and although Serbia missed chances to further extend their lead, they were not overly troubled by the Costa Ricans.

However, Navas had to take the ball out the back of his net six minutes later after Kolarov curled a free-kick inside the near post from 22 yards out on the right.

Arsenal forward Joel Campbell was introduced with Costa Rica chasing the game and he nearly capitalised on an error from Nikola Milenkovic, but the centre-back recovered remarkably to deny the striker as he found himself one-on-one with Stojkovic.

Serbia, who last appeared in the finals in 2010, were eager to show their worth in their first game back on the showpiece event.

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