Costa Rica 0 Serbia 1
SAMARA • Aleksandar Kolarov produced a moment of captain's inspiration to curl home a superb free kick and get Serbia's World Cup campaign up and running with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica yesterday.
The defender stole the show but, for his coach Mladen Krstajic, team unity was key to the victory.
"My players had the right attitude and approach: unity. We had to be a compact unit in both defence and attack and that's most important," said the 44-year-old.
"What's most important for me is that we played as a team and we were focused. We have to continue as a team."
With Costa Rica proving a tough nut to crack, Kolarov stepped up to bury a 25-metre effort from wide on the right, lighting up an otherwise tight game in the southern Russian city of Samara.
Serbia had dominated against a Costa Rica side who had rarely threatened after a bright start, but chances were thin on the ground until Kolarov, who plays for Roma in the Italian Serie A, made the breakthrough in the 56th minute.
With Brazil heavy favourites to win Group E, which also features Switzerland, the win delivered a vital three points for Serbia and left Costa Rica in a precarious position.
"I think it was a tight match. We tried to execute our plan, but they managed to score on a set piece. What can you do?" said Costa Rica coach Oscar Ramirez.
"It's going to be difficult, but I told the lads in the changing room, 'This isn't over'."
There was a late scuffle as Nemanja Matic tried to take the ball off a member of the Costa Rican staff on the sidelines, before a Video Assistant Referee red-card review saw Aleksandar Prijovic get only a yellow for a swipe at Oscar Duarte. But Serbia held on for a potentially priceless victory.
There were no exuberant celebrations, however, with Kolarov sounding a word of caution.
"It is great to have three points in the bag, but we are not finished. I don't want to do the maths yet," he said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE