Aleksandar Kolarov, Serbia Top Costa Rica in 2018 World Cup Match

Gianni Verschueren@ReverschPassFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2018

TOPSHOT - Serbia's defender Aleksandar Kolarov (C) is congratulated by Serbia's midfielder Adem Ljajic (L) after scoring during the Russia 2018 World Cup Group E football match between Costa Rica and Serbia at the Samara Arena in Samara on June 17, 2018. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - NO MOBILE PUSH ALERTS/DOWNLOADS        (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Serbia started their 2018 FIFA World Cup off on the right foot, beating Costa Rica 1-0 in a Group E fixture on Sunday.

Aleksandar Kolarov scored the only goal of the match, a stunning free-kick in the second half.

Both teams underwhelmed during Sunday's encounter, but Serbia's quality was enough to overcome their CONCACAF foes.

Here are the takeaways from Sunday's match:


Milinkovic-Savic Is the Real Deal

Serbia hardly looked like a cohesive unit on Sunday―more on that later―but the one positive standout throughout was Lazio man Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who ran the show from his position behind the main striker.

He was a constant threat and the clear focal point of Costa Rica's defensive efforts. Many came away impressed, and for good reason:

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A few first-half examples of what makes Milinković-Savić such a unique talent. Technical dexterity combined with a physical profile that is quite often unplayable. He's a dominant penalty area presence too - alongside Mitrović - and Serbia's game plan is all about serving both. https://t.co/ctob7l6Ho5

Here's a look at an acrobatic highlight (U.S. viewers only):

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Acrobatic effort from Milinkovic-Savic! https://t.co/4aXsxlpTB6

The Serb has been linked with both Real Madrid and Manchester United, per AS (h/t Richard Fay of the Manchester Evening News), and based off Sunday's showing, it's easy to see why.

There's a lot of hype surrounding Milinkovic-Savic, and even though he didn't score against Los Ticos, he proved he's worth every bit of it.


Serbia's Lack of Cohesion Will Cost Them Eventually

The Europeans got the win eventually and were never troubled after taking the lead, courtesy of a stunning free-kick from Kolarov in the 56th minute. But a narrow, one-goal win over a Costa Rican team that came into the World Cup in poor form is hardly cause for celebration, and the match highlighted a key weakness in the side.

As talented as Milinkovic-Savic, Kolarov, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic and their team-mates are, they struggled to execute.

Milinkovic-Savic spent the bulk of the first half shouting because he didn't get the ball where he wanted it, and too many crosses missed the mark because the intended target took a different route.

Ultimately, individual quality won out. Kolarov's goal was unstoppable, even for a goalkeeper as gifted as Keylor Navas:

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cannon [noun] 1. A large, heavy piece of artillery, typically mounted on wheels. 2. Aleksandar Kolarov's left foot. https://t.co/vJoyILu7DB

But Serbia will face far better teams than Costa Rica in the knockout stages, if they make it that far, and their lack of cohesion and communication will hamper them.


Costa Rica's Inability to Adjust Will Doom World Cup Run

Sunday's match followed a familiar pattern for Los Ticos, who came out with energy and dominated the first 15 minutes like they did in their last friendly against Belgium.

As soon as their opponents figured them out, however, Costa Rica's momentum evaporated. In this case, the Serbs bombarded the right flank with Tadic early and often, taking away Los Ticos' outlets on the counter.

Once they took the lead, Serbia closed up shop, and Costa Rica had no idea what to do. Costa Rica showed a complete lack of tactical versatility, something that has plagued the side for months.

Four years ago, Costa Rica were the Cinderella story of the tournament because they could handle a variety of opponents and were able to change their approach on the fly. This team is nothing like that, and fans shouldn't expect a trip to the knockout stages this time around.


What's Next?

Both teams will be in action again on Friday, when Costa Rica face Brazil and Serbia take on Switzerland.