Kolarov’s free-kick gives Serbia victory against Costa Rica

Kolarov’s free-kick gives Serbia victory against Costa Rica
June 17 21:09 2018

In a World Cup that had already been illuminated by exquisite free-kicks, Aleksandar Kolarov provided a masterpiece of his own. This was not a performance to dispel doubts over Serbia’s ability to fully harness their array of talent but the deciding goal should be taken for what it was: a strike worthy of winning any match on this exalted stage and one that, given the taker’s identity, came as no huge surprise.

There are few players who can hit a dead ball with the whip and accuracy of Kolarov and the latest example, which left Keylor Navas grasping at thin air 11 minutes into the second half, has given Serbia a fighting chance of improving their woeful record in this competition.

Until Kolarov’s intervention Serbia had looked like a side falling into bad old habits. Their first-half showing had, bar a series of flourishes from the gifted Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, largely been tepid but they shifted through the gears after the interval.

Kolarov was given his chance after Francisco Calvo, the otherwise impressive Costa Rica left wing-back, grappled illegally with Aleksandar Mitrovic. The position, 25 yards out and angled a little to the right of centre, was to the Roma player what the penalty spot might be to others; he duly sent the ball up, down and into the one spot Navas could not reach and it was as if a lead weight had been removed from Serbian shoulders.

“Frankly speaking there was a great deal of pressure on the players,” their manager, Mladen Krstajic, said. “I felt some pressure, too. But I’m very happy and proud of them for their team effort.”

The tension was understandable: including games under the banner of Serbia & Montenegro in 2006, Serbia had lost five of their previous six World Cup assignments. They began as if paralysed and should have been behind within 12 minutes. A lively start from Costa Rica had already brought a couple of half-chances when their centre-back Giancarlo González found himself free in front of the posts after a well-worked short corner. All González had to do was nod David Guzmán’s floated delivery back past Vladimir Stojkovic but his bearings went awry and, perhaps appropriately in a city that proudly wears its status as the vanguard of the Soviet space industry, sent the ball into orbit.

“I get the impression that in the first 20 or 25 minutes we were very close to achieving something,” the Costa Rica manager, Óscar Ramírez, said. In his post-match press conference Ramírez was taken to task by his country’s media for, apparently, setting up too negatively. The charge is not a new one but this time it seemed harsh: they committed men forward in decent numbers when possible but were bereft of genuine creativity, a fact that became starkly evident when their pursuit of a late equaliser degenerated into a series of balls tossed aimlessly into the Serbia box.

What Costa Rica really lacked was someone who could break the lines like Milinkovic-Savic, an outstanding player whose ability to emerge with the ball from seemingly lost causes prompted several double takes. As he grew into the game so did Serbia, and moments before Kolarov settled the issue he played in Mitrovic with a perfectly weighted through pass only for the forward to shoot too close to Navas. There is, presumably, more to come from a playmaker who was only winning his fifth cap and is still bedding in. Serbia looked capable of enjoying themselves when spaces opened up, Filip Kostic missing one gilt-edged chance after a fine move, but they will need to be more efficient when they face Switzerland in a match that will probably decide both teams’ group stage fortunes.

“For the first time in a long time there are no clans or cliques in the squad,” Krstajic said. That, by common consent, is the difference between this Serbia side and previous generations. They were certainly quick to assist Nemanja Matic when, in the dying minutes, a minor scuffle broke out over a Costa Rica staff member’s refusal to hand him the ball. The incident was referred to VAR, as was an even later stray arm flung out by the substitute Aleksandar Prijovic. No red cards were brandished and, mercifully, Kolarov’s stroke of genius remained the abiding memory.

[Guardian UK]