Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia: 5 things we learned

Serbia eked out a 1-0 win against Costa Rica in the opening fixture of Group E in the World Cup.

REUTERS/Michael Dalder

In what was an intriguing encounter on paper, Serbia ended up eking out a 1-0 win against Costa Rica in the first fixture of Sunday’s World Cup tranche.

While there were chances for both sides – with Costa Rica having a good case to have created the better ones – it was a moment of brilliance from Aleksandar Kolarov that decided the game.

Arrowing a free kick from distance in the first half, Kolarov’s goal ended up being the difference between the two teams.

Here are five things we learned from the game:

  1. 1 SMS as one of a new breed of number ten

    REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

    Gone are the days of the diminutive number ten who was lithe enough to twist and turn an opposition defence into knots. These days, you're more likely to find a more rangy player in the number ten spot.

    Which isn't to suggest that the artfulness of the position is gone. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is pushing 6 foot 3 and is not a slight individual. However, his feet are good enough for him to play just behind the striker.

    For Serbia, he plays behind the striker and is able to oscillate between a classic number ten role, functioning as a creative pivot for the team, or more of a supporting role behind Aleksandar Mitrovic. 

    This flexibility allows Serbia to shift seemlessly between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 which, given Costa Rica play with a five-man defence, proved to be a useful foil throughout the game.

    As a result, a couple of chances fell to Milinkovic-Savic throughout the game and, had he taken his chances, then the game could have been more comfortable for Serbia.

  2. 2 You need to take your chances...

    REUTERS/Michael Dalder

    When you're sitting deep and playing counter-attacking football, there is an added pressure on taking chances when they present themselves.

    Oscar Ramirez sets his side up in a 5-4-1 formation against teams who are expected to be favourites. 

    With a flat back five, the Costa Rican's set up a very low defensive block and look to move quickly after turning over possession. As a result, chances can be few and far between.

    When the ball found Giancarlo Gonzalez found himself unmarked at the back post for a first-half header, he could only balloon the ball over the bar.

    It was as gilt-edged as a chance can get and, had he scored it, it could have given the game an entirely different valence. As it was, his miss allowed Serbia off the hook.

  3. 3 Kolorov's free kick joins a growing list of set piece goals

    When Aleksandar Kolarov opened the scoring with a free kick that can only be described as 'sumptuous', he joined the growing number of goal-scorers in this competition so far.

    In fact, six of the eight games in the World Cup so far have seen goals scored from set-pieces and, in the case of both exceptions, the only reason they weren't added to the list was because penalties were missed in both games.

    Given the nature of international football - various players from various leagues from around the world playing together with very little time to develop as a unit - this should hardly be surprising.

    There is also a sense in which Video Assistant Referee is affecting the proceedings: more penalties being given on Saturday than had been given in open play in last year's tournament.

    Whether or not this is a positive development remains to be seen. But if free kicks like Kolarov's keep going in, people will hardly care.  

  4. 4 Costa Rica hampered by injury woes

    REUTERS/Michael Dalder

    Oscar Ramirez would be justified in feeling aggrieved that two of his biggest stars - Christian Bolanos and Joel Campbell - were only able to play for the last 30 minutes of the game.

    With both having injury-related fitness issues, they came on at the 60th and 67th minutes respectively and looked lively when they did. 

    In light of the fact that this game is effectively the decider for second place in Group E, the loss of these two players may come back to haunt Ramirez.

    He'll be hoping that they will be fighting fit by the time their other winnable group stage fixture against Switzerland comes around on the 27th of June. But by then it could be too late.

  5. 5 How good are Serbia?

    REUTERS/David Gray

    Serbia come into this competition with remarkably low expectations.

    Yet while they aren't quite the side that they were in the past, they still have a number of players who have the quality to push this team into the knock-out stages of the competition.

    Dusan Tadic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Nemanja Matic, Luka Milivojevic: all of these players have impressed in Europe's top leagues.

    Playing against Costa Rica is a tough prospect for any team in a tournament group stage. Sitting deep and forcing the opposition to break them down, Oscar Ramirez's outfit have the nous to frustrate a team like Serbia.

    Winning this game, then, however tentatively, could be a good sign for Serbia. Both Brazil and Switzerland will be more open and so will allow Serbia to give a better account of themselves.

    What do you think? Let us know by commenting below.

  1. Poll: Who will finish second in this group?

    1. Brazil
    2. Serbia
    3. Costa Rica
    4. Switzerland
    14 votes
    Share Your Result

Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?

Jon Mackenzie


Jon Mackenzie is the Football Editor at RealSport.

Regularly appearing on talkSPORT radio, his work has also featured in The Economist, The Blizzard, Tifo Football and on the Futbolgrad Network.

A UEFA and Premier League-accredited journalist, Jon also founded A Team of John O'Sheas podcast and hosts it every week.

Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Mackenzie