Russia 2018 Watch: Serbia see off Costa Rica on manager’s competitive debut
PUBLISHED: 16:44 17 June 2018
Read our World Cup blog over the coming weeks. Lane Dias reviews the first of three matches on day four
You’ve never overseen a competitive fixture in your managerial career. Fancy being thrown into the deep end and taking charge of your country’s opening match of the 2018 FIFA World Cup?
Moreover still, imagine winning that match. That’s exactly what happened to Serbia manager Mladen Krstajić, who wasn’t just making his tournament debut or his World Cup debut, but his competitive debut as well.
Krstajić was appointed manager of Serbia in October, the same month that his predecessor Slavoljub Muslin had done all the hard work to clinch World Cup qualification in a group that included Austria, the Republic of Ireland and Wales, among others.
His side impressed throughout the entirety of today’s game with many of their inventive spells crafted by the much-sought-after Sergej Milinković-Savić (linked with a move to Manchester United) who caught the eye of several on social media and ITV pundit Patrice Evra, who said that he has to have “character” and be able “to die for this club,” if he is to succeed at United.
The most creative moment in the match came in the 56th minute when Aleksandar Kolarov curled a delightful free-kick into the top corner after a foul by David Guzmán on Aleksandar Mitrović, which proved to be costly for the Costa Ricans.
The goal was the third direct free-kick to be scored in the tournament after earlier strikes by Russia’s Aleksandr Golovin and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo – the same number as the whole 2014 tournament.
The win was only Serbia’s second victory in the World Cup finals since they competed as an independent nation, their other was a 1-0 win over Germany in 2010.
Costa Rica literally translates as ‘Rich Coast’, but Los Ticos put in a relatively poor performance in comparison to their previous campaign, where they brought life into the so-called ‘Group of Death’ alongside three former World Cup champions in England, Italy and Uruguay.
In that tournament, they topped Group D, progressing completely unscathed after winning against Italy and Uruguay before taming the Three Lions with a goalless draw. They then met Greece in the last 16, where they gave the 2004 European champions a penalty-shootout masterclass, which brought keeper Keylor Navas into the limelight.
The first three letters of Navas’ first name described just how instrumental he was. He kept three clean sheets in five matches in that tournament (which ended against the Netherlands, who served them a taste of their own medicine on penalties) and earned him a move to Real Madrid, where he has been number one ever since.
Navas became the only Costa Rican to have won the Champions League in three consecutive years just a few weeks ago. However, even he couldn’t produce the heroics to deny Kolarov’s precise free-kick.