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Aleksandar Kolarov's gorgeous free kick beats Keylor Navas and Costa Rica

Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov isn’t the player he once was. He isn’t the mobile, energetic fullback who bombs forward and terrifies defenses. He’s defensively vulnerable.

But the one thing Kolarov still does have, undiminished by age, is a rocket-launcher of a left foot. And that rocket-launcher of a left foot beat Costa Rica Sunday in Serbia’s 2018 World Cup opener:


Keylor Navas had proven to be a big obstacle for the Serbians to circumvent. He had smothered a Aleksandr Mitrovic shot one-v-one. He looked intent on winning a point or three for Costa Rica, just like he had throughout qualifying, and four years ago in Brazil.

But Kolarov – who had reportedly pulled up injured in warmups, and who later seemed to be struggling with a back ailment – unleashed the unstoppable free kick. Los Ticos had no way back into the game. And Serbia is off to great start in Group E.

Serbia’s Aleksandar Kolarov celebrates scoring the opening goal during the group E match between Costa Rica and Serbia at the 2018 soccer World Cup in the Samara Arena in Samara, Russia, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

Serbia superior

The Serbs were deserved victors. They crammed all six of their most talented midfielders and forwards onto the field from the start. And although their attack was somewhat one-sided, with everything flowing through Dusan Tadic down the right, they grew into the game. Tadic was difficult for Costa Rica to deal with. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Mitrovic began to combine well after the first 30 minutes. Milinkovic-Savic wowed with his skill.

Costa Rica, on the other hand, was as impotent as feared. It was solid, but lacked any sort of attacking punch. Young Serbian center back Nikola Milenkovic was excellent.

Serbia might not be complete as a unit just yet. But it certainly has a complete starting 11 of talent. It has intimidating size and strength – which was, in a twisted way, on display late during a scuffle provoked by Nemanja Matic:


If they weren’t already, the Serbs are now favored to advance to the Round of 16 alongside Brazil.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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