Group E: Kolarov's free-kick tips the balance in Serbia's favour
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Aleksandar Kolarov’s spectacular free-kick into the top right hand corner of Keylor Navas’s goal early in the second half was the difference between Serbia and Costa Rica in Samara on Sunday. It was gritty, gladiatorial fare after that as Costa Rica sought parity.
But they were unable to break down opponents who appeared happy to absorb the pressure.
The Costa Ricans might find more openings in their next encounter against Brazil in St Petersburg on Friday.
Brazil’s demanding and often hysterical public will be expecting pyrotechnics from the Seleção after a surprise 1-1 draw against Switzerland in Rostov.
The script went according to plan. Neymar was restored in the starting line-up after his injury while playing for Paris Saint-Germain in February.
The 26-year-old was at the centre of his side’s forays forward. But it was Philippe Coutinho who struck the goal.
Picking up the ball on the left hand side of the Switzerland penalty area, the Barcelona star moved the ball onto his right foot and curled it into the far right hand corner of Yann Sommer’s goal.
But the Swiss were not deterred and levelled when Steven Zuber was allowed space to head home a corner.
The Brazilians complained that Zuber had pushed Miranda out of the way to create room but Brazil coach Tite refused to be lured into criticising the officiating.
“Of course I wanted to win and I expected us to do so and so I’m not happy with a draw,” he said. “Up until their goal, our movement was good but once they scored they got better and we didn’t respond. And when we did, we didn’t finish well. It was the stress and tension of the first match.”
Two games follow in which that pressure will increase exponentially on Brazil if they are to advance - as expected – to the last 16.
The Serbs who they face in the last Group E match at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow, will be even more uncompromising than the Swiss and Costa Rica will be ready to gnaw at seemingly fragile minds.