Serbia vs. Republic of Ireland: Score, Reaction from World Cup 2018 Qualifier

Rory Marsden@@roomarsdenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2016

Ireland's Daryl Murphy (C) celebrates scoring with teammates John OShea (L) and Stephen Quinn during the World Cup 2018 qualifying football match between Serbia and Ireland in Belgrade on September 5, 2016.  / AFP / Pedja MILOSAVLJEVIC        (Photo credit should read PEDJA MILOSAVLJEVIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Serbia and the Republic of Ireland shared the spoils in their opening 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying match, as they played out a breathless 2-2 draw at a drenched Rajko Mitic Stadium on Monday. 

The hosts made a calamitous start to the Group D game in Belgrade, as Jeff Hendrick took advantage of some poor defending and a big deflection to put Ireland 1-0 ahead in the opening minutes.

Filip Kostic deservedly drew Serbia level just after the hour and then won a penalty, which Dusan Tadic duly converted and looked as though it would be the winner. 

But Daryl Murphy's headed goal 10 minutes from time earned Ireland a potentially vital point from a tricky encounter.

The FAI posted both starting lineups on their Twitter feed ahead of the clash:

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Torrential rain in Belgrade caused doubt as to whether the game would take place, but Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai gave the go-ahead 90 minutes before kick-off, per RTE's Tony O'Donoghue:

Ireland made the perfect start, going ahead in the third minute after Hendrick's shot from the edge of the box took a deflection off Serbia skipper Branislav Ivanovic and nestled in the back of the net.

It was a slice of fortune for manager Martin O'Neill's men, but Serbia should have done much better in clearing Robbie Brady's free-kick before Shane Long teed Hendrick up for the shot.

Serbia responded well to going behind and were the dominant force in the match after the 15-minute mark.

In the 21st minute, Ireland goalkeeper Darren Randolph flapped at a free-kick, and captain Seamus Coleman was forced to clear the ball off the Irish line. Two minutes later, the goalkeeper gave a much better account of himself, as he did well to push Kostic's left-footed shot away to safety. 

The wet conditions did not make for slick football from either side, with football writer Miguel Delaney summing up the opening half in pithy fashion:

Ireland nearly went two goals ahead just before half-time, but Serbia goalkeeper Radovan Radakovic punched away Jonathan Walters' header from Brady's free-kick.

Then it was Serbia who saw a chance go begging when Aleksandar Mitrovic could not get the ball out from his feet after Randolph only half-cleared a cross from the right.

After the break, it took some time for either side to threaten again in front of goal, but Serbia remained the more dangerous outfit going forward.

They got their reward in the 62nd minute, as the ball fell to an unmarked Kostic eight yards from goal after decent work in the box from Tadic, and the Hamburger SV winger made no mistake in slamming the ball home.

Five minutes later, Walters was adjudged to have bundled Kostic over from behind in the box and conceded a spot-kick, although the Irish Independent was not convinced:

Tadic converted well, finishing high into the goal, to turn the game on its head.

Soon after, Serbia should have put the game to bed when Randolph shelled a free-kick delivery, but Andrija Pavlovic could only hit the underside of the crossbar with his free shot.

The hosts were made to rue their missed opportunity in the 80th minute, as substitute Murphy headed home Brady's excellent corner, having been given far too much space in the box.

Ivanovic had an opportunity to win the game for his side five minutes from the final whistle, but Coleman was on the line again to make the vital clearance and earn Ireland a point from an entertaining clash.


Post-Match Reaction

Rob Wright of RTE Sport provided O'Neill's comments after the full-time whistle: "We deserved a point, without question. It's a great point this early on in the competition."

Meanwhile, Randolph hailed the team effort that saw Ireland snatch a point from a tough game, per Wright: "It's a tough place to come. The manager said inside it could be a very important point at the end of the group, so we're very happy to get a draw and our first point of the group. I got lucky today when I needed it. It was a team effort; it really was."