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Serbia escaped with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica in their World Cup group stage clash on Sunday at Samara Arena, thanks to a direct free-kick by team captain Aleksandar Kolarov in the second half.

Kolarov put the Serbians on the board with the third direct free-kick of the tournament in the 56th minute to carry them to their first World Cup win since 2010.

Kolarov’s tally was what all Serbia needed to carve out a close win, grabbing all three points to take the early lead in Group E. Serbia has three points, Brazil and Switzerland have one point each while Costa Rica has no point to show so far. Brazil and Switzerland played to a 1-1 draw on Sunday.

Serbia’s four previous World Cup victories came via scores of 1-0. The Serbians defeated Germany in 2010 and Iran and United States in 1998 by the same score. Serbia failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

Serbia Survives Close Match

It was a close match from the outset with both teams trying to find the back of the goal. Aleksandar Mitrovic had a scoring chance early in the match, but his header missed the target. Marco Urena also had an opportunity to put Costa Rica on the board, but his attempt was saved by Vladimir Stojkovic.

In the second half, Serbia stepped up its attack, but Costa Rica goalkeeper Keylor Navas managed to thwart their opponent’s scoring attempts. Serbia finally got a break in the 56th minute after David Guzman was shown a yellow card. Kolarov capitalized on the opportunity, curling the free kick past Navas’ reach.

According to Serbia’s team reporter Sonja Nikcevic, the team’s key to victory was its cohesiveness, covering positions for one another and taking the opponent seriously.

“The team’s mix of aggressiveness and creativity in midfield was the driving force of the win,” Nikcevic says.

Serbia Dedicates Win To Sick FA Director

After the win, Kolarov dedicates Serbia’s win to Serbian FA’s Sporting Director Goran Bunjevcevic, who underwent emergency surgery last month after suffering a brain aneurysm. 

“We dedicate this win to our Director, and we want him to know that we are all supporting him,” said Kolarov, referring to the 45-year-old Bunjevcevic, who assumed the post with the Serbian federation on August 2016.

Bunjevcevic suited up in 16 games as defender for the national team from 1998 to 2003. He also played for Tottenham Hotspur from 2001 to 2006 before making a transition to the front office. He worked as sporting director for Serbian clubs Red Star Belgrade and Zemun before joining the Serbian FA.

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