Substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic scored twice for Serbia in the second half
The Republic of Ireland’s 2022 World Cup qualification started disappointingly when Serbia suffered a 3-2 defeat in Belgrade.
Alan Browne ended a well-functioning Republic play to give the visitors the lead in the 18th minute.
Dusan Vlahovic equalized for the hosts on 40 minutes before substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic turned the game on its head with well-executed praise.
Mitrovic’s header put Serbia in second place ahead of James Collins’ late consolation.
Serbia’s captain Dusan Tadic was excellent and scored all three of his team’s goals.
With Portugal widely expected to lead the league, the result is a blow to the republic looking to battle Serbia for a play-off spot.
The result extends Republican boss Stephen Kenny’s wait for a first win since taking office to nine games, though there have been clear signs of improvement in their performances across the three international windows in the final months of 2020.
The Republic started off brilliantly with lots of crisp passing sequences and was rewarded with their first goal from the open game under Kenny as Browne led the guests to the top with a coherent, clinical attack boost largely absent from Kenny’s first eight responsible games.
Browne started the pull by feeding Enda Stevens on the lower left before charging into the box.
Stevens found Callum Robinson pulling past Stefan Mitrovic and poking his cross into Browne, where the Preston midfielder headed his header down over the belligerent Serbian stopper Marko Dmitrovic and into the corner for the Republic’s first goal in 678 minutes.
The Irish defended strongly for most of the first half but were undone five minutes before break when Vlahovic faced the hosts. The Fiorentina frontman clung to Dusan Tadic’s header before striking the bottom corner with an expertly placed left footed strike.
Browne’s header ended the Republic’s 677-minute duck in front of goal
Tadic and Mitrovic break Irish hearts together
With tears in the Irish defense, Serbian skipper Tadic became more and more influential, teeing off Filip Djuricic three minutes after leveling, only for the Sassuolo striker to shoot a weak shot out of bounds.
Tadic then tried unsuccessfully to get Republic goalkeeper Travers out with a shot straight from a corner after the visitors weathered sustained pressure at the end of half.
The Republic didn’t enjoy the attacking third as much after the break, but they felt they should have received a penalty when Aaron Connolly went down under Mitrovic’s challenge.
The hosts had waved their own appeal, however, four minutes later Vlahovic fell over Coleman when the Irish skipper lost his footing and the Italian referee Davide Massa was again unmoved.
Tadic continued to find space and punished the away team as the formidable Ajax striker fed Mitrovic, who serenely praised Travers to fire Serbia in front of him.
Tadic was the architect again when the Serbs brought the result beyond the republic. The former Southampton playmaker stood up for Mitrovic, who judged his header perfectly.
The republic was offered a lifeline by substitute Collins, who benefited from a defensive mistake by the hosts, but the Irish failed to save a point as they did when the teams met in Belgrade in 2016.
Tadic has scored all three Serbian goals in an outstanding performance
Kenny’s bold choice doesn’t pay off
Kenny’s line-up undoubtedly had a bold and inexperienced look when the chief of the republic switched to a back five.
Shane Duffy, who has struggled at Celtic that season, was dropped from defense as West Brom’s Dara O’Shea was favored alongside Ciaran Clark and returning captain Seamus Coleman, who made his first international appearance under Kenny.
There were also starts in midfield for Jayson Molumby and Josh Cullen, who won their sixth and fifth caps when Jeff Hendrick settled for a seat on the bench.
Browne moved to Preston teammate Molumby in a midfield that lacked experience but promised energy and mobility galore. Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson were hired to direct the attack.
While an extensive list of injured absenteeism was included in Kenny’s thinking, O’Shea was the only survivor of the Republic’s final game, a Nations League 0-0 draw against Bulgaria in November, while only Stevens and Robinson lost the euro -Playoffs with Slovakia began a month earlier.
Kenny can be supported by his team’s first half. While Serbia’s equalizer could easily have been avoided, the Republic’s three center-backs worked tirelessly to suppress their hosts while O’Shea demonstrated his ability to play line-breaking passes from behind.
The second period, however, was far more unsettling when the republic’s energy levels plummeted and Tadic was able to create openings for the deadly Mitrovic twice.
Kenny and the Republic will regroup ahead of Saturday’s home qualification against Luxembourg, while Serbia will face Portugal, who beat Azerbaijan 1-0 in the opener.
- 2PavlovicBooked at 89 minutes
- 14thRacialReplaced byMaksimovicat the 63 ‘protocol
- 3rdMladenovicReplaced byKosticat the 45 ‘protocol
- 10TadicReplaced byGudeljat the 78 ‘protocol
- 18thVlahovicReplaced byJovicat the 82 ‘protocol
- 21DjuricicReplaced byMitrovicat the 63 ‘protocol
R. of Ireland
- 5ClarkReplaced byBradyat the 79 ‘protocol
- 15thMolumbyReplaced byHendrickat the 61 ‘protocol
- 8thBrowneReplaced byCollinsat the 79 ‘protocol
- 12thRobinsonReplaced byMcCleanat the 79 ‘protocol
- 9ConnollyReplaced byLongat the 67 ‘protocol
End of the game, Serbia 3, Republic of Ireland 2.
The second half ends, Serbia 3, Republic of Ireland 2.
Corner, Republic of Ireland. The corner was caused by Nikola Milenkovic.
Foul by Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia).
Séamus Coleman (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Dara O’Shea (Republic of Ireland).
Strahinja Pavlovic (Serbia) receives a yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Strahinja Pavlovic (Serbia).
Matt Doherty (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Attempt blocked. Jeff Hendrick (Republic of Ireland) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Goal! Serbia 3, Republic of Ireland 2. James Collins (Republic of Ireland) shot his left foot from the right side of the six yard box into the lower left corner. Prepared by Shane Long.
Foul by Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia).
Dara O’Shea (Republic of Ireland) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Missed attempt. Dara O’Shea (Republic of Ireland) header from a difficult angle on the left misses the left header. Assisted by Robbie Brady with a cross following a corner.
Corner, Republic of Ireland. The corner was conceded by Milan Gajic.
Substitution, Serbia. Luka Jovic replaces Dusan Vlahovic.
Missed attempt. Matt Doherty (Republic of Ireland) header from the center of the box misses the goal on the right. Assisted by James McClean with a cross.
Away from Serbia. Marko Dmitrovic attempts a pass, but Dusan Vlahovic is caught offside.
Attempt blocked. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Serbia) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Dusan Vlahovic.