Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia: Trademark Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick gives Serbia perfect start

A trademark Aleksandar Kolarov free-kick in the second half gave Serbia the perfect start to their World Cup campaign at the expense of Costa Rica.

A tightly-contested encounter at the Samara Arena Samara was goalless until the 57th minute when captain Kolarov converted a free-kick with a ferocious effort.

This is the first time that Serbia have started a World Cup with a win and they, temporarily at least, sit top of Group E with Brazil and Switzerland set to play later in the evening.

All square at the interval

Two strong and tactically astute sides started the embryonic stages of the fixture surprisingly openly and the fast tempo suggested an exciting 45 minutes were on the horizon.

Oscar Ramirez’s side created the better opportunities in the first-half and should have opened the scoring when centre-back Giancarlo Gonzalez peeled off his marker at the back post but was unable to keep his header on target from close range.

Los Ticos are experienced - only four are 25 or younger - and well-drilled. The quarter-finalists in 2014 comfortably finished second to Mexico in CONCACAF qualifying and showcased their defensive credentials to limit a hugely-talented Serbian front four to a handful of clear-cut opportunities.

Giancarlo Gonzalez heads the ball as Serbia's goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic attempts to save it. Source | Getty Images.
Giancarlo Gonzalez heads the ball as Vladimir Stojkovic attempts to save it. Source | Getty Images.

Aleksandar Mitrovic attempted to get a shot away from inside the area after 25 minutes but was suffocated by Costa Rican defenders. Milinkovic-Savic was then set through on goal by captain Alexander Kolarov but could not get any power behind his shot to beat Keylor Navas.

The Lazio youngster produced a sensational effort with an acrobatic overhead kick but Real Madrid’s Navas denied him once more, as well as the eventual offside flag. The longer the first-half went on, the better Serbia became and Costa Rica welcomed the interval.

Kolarov converts free-kick

The Eagles started the second half as well as they ended the first and probably should have been in front after 50 minutes when Aleksandar Mitrovic - top scorer in qualifying with six goals - went one-on-one with Navas after Milinkovic-Savic put the ball into his path. Navas further cemented his position as Costa Rica’s star man with an intelligent save to keep the score level.

The 0-0 scoreline would not last long, however, as the ability of Aleksandar Kolarov from dead-ball situations proved dividends for Mladen Krstajić and his players. Calvo brought down Mitrovic just outside the area and Kolarov successfully converted with a powerfully-struck side-footed shot.

Serbian players celebrate the opening goal. Source | Getty Images.
Serbian players celebrate the opening goal. Source | Getty Images.

Costa Rica were quick to deploy substitutes Joel Campbell and Christian Bolaños who both missed out on the starting XI due to fitness concerns. Both made a highly positive impact in the final third but Serbia’s strong spine came to the fore as they sat back and allowed their opponents to pass the ball in front of them.

As Costa Rica struggled to create an opportunity for themselves, Serbia had chances on the counter-attack. Many were wasted before the ball entered the area but, when Mitrovic was eventually presented with an opportunity, he hesitated and failed to get his shot away.

Unsavory scenes on the touchline and the interference of VAR due to the flailing hand of substitute Prijovic dominated the dying embers of this group stage game, with Costa Rica not getting close to equalising.

The win means Serbia will temporarily go top of Group E and have began their World Cup in the best possible fashion.