(FIFA.com) Serbia’s World Cup campaign is off to an ideal start after the Orlovi defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in Samara on Sunday. The only goal came from a pin-point free kick from captain Aleksandar Kolarov early in the second half, capping off a largely dominant display from the European side.
The team now go into preparation for what could be a crucial clash with Switzerland looking to build on the positives from their opening match, and to maintain the momentum that started with an impressive 5-1 friendly victory over Bolivia on June 9.
Costa Rica had opportunities in the first half and they did not take advantage of them. In the second half, Serbia were more confident and scored the decisive goal.
Here are four things that went right for Mladen Krstajic’s team against Costa Rica:
1. Combining youth and experience in defence
Led by Branislav Ivanovic, who now has a record 104 caps for Serbia, three members of the back four have over 200 national appearances between them and an average age of 33. The fourth member, 20-year-old Nikola Milenkovic, made his competitive debut for Serbia against Los Ticos, and looked like he had as much experience as his team-mates. He and his experienced partner at centre-back, Dusko Tosic, were concentrated, cool and committed to every ball when faced with threats from Bryan Ruiz and Marco Urena.
This game was about efficacy and accuracy and some players of Costa Rica did not have that this time.
2. Allowing for midfield flair
Serbia’s most anticipated World Cup debut was that of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, and the Lazio star did not disappoint. Combining with Dusan Tadic on the right wing, he forged a partnership that was a constant threat to Costa Rica’s defence, with the pair creating numerous chances between them and showing a creativity that has not been typical of Serbia’s more recent international performances. Both Switzerland and Europe’s biggest clubs will have taken note.
Costa Rica’s attackers were isolated throughout the second half and they did not create enough opportunities to score.
3. Shifting to two defensive midfielders
Serbia missed their last three major competitions, and while there was plenty of experience in the team, the fear was that World Cup jitters could easily take over after such a long period away from the big stage. The team survived a high-paced opening 15 minutes against Costa Rica with a host of early chances for both sides, but then did well to settle into a rhythm that they controlled. The catalyst for the calm and organized display was the defensive midfield duo of Nemanja Matic and Luka Milivojevic that soaked up Costa Rican pressure with ease.
This was a chess match that Serbia won.
4. Showing a united front
The key word in Serbia’s World Cup buildup has been unity, with Federation officials, staff and players alike insisting that the atmosphere in the national team has not been this healthy in decades. It was visible on the pitch of the Samara Arena, but just as much off it as captain Aleksandar Kolarov dedicated the team’s victory and his goal to the Serbian FA’s Sporting Director Goran Bunjevcevic, who suffered a brain aneurysm earlier this year.
“We dedicate this win to our Director, and we want him to know that we are all supporting him.”
What’s next For Costa Rica?
June 22, vs Brazil in St. Petersburg.