Serbia 3 Republic of Ireland 2
A SUPERB finish from Cork’s Alan Browne wasn’t enough for the Republic of Ireland as they were beaten 3-2 by Serbia in the opening game of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign in Belgrade on Wednesday night.
The Mahon native’s excellent header had given Stephen Kenny’s side an early lead but goals from Dusan Vlahovic and a brace from Aleksandar Mitrovic earned their Group A rivals the three points despite James Collins’ late consolation.
From a Cork point of view, only Browne was fit enough to take his place in the matchday squad with Caoimhín Kelleher, Kevin Long, John Egan, Conor Hourihane, and Adam Idah missing through injury.
Kenny changed their formation from his favoured 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 set-up in the hope that it would suit the players he had at his disposal.
Following a bright opening, they needed Seamus Coleman, who regained the captain’s armband for his first international game in 17 months, to clear a dangerous Serbian through ball.
The midfielder was involved in the build-up as well and after Enda Stevens found Callum Robinson, the latter clipped a cross to the back post towards Browne, who expertly nodded the ball into the far bottom left corner for Ireland’s first goal in 678 minutes.
Serbia failed to truly test Mark Travers but that changed shortly before the halftime break as they levelled the scores when Dusan Vlahovic expertly slotted the ball across the stand-in keeper and just inside his far post.
Dusan Tadic created that equaliser and he almost helped them take the lead after 44 minutes but Filip Djuricic’s powerful strike from a tight angle was denied by Travers.
Irish fans at home were bemoaning the lack of VAR at the beginning of the second half as Aaron Connolly appeared to have been fouled inside the penalty area. That notion was quickly dismissed as Coleman was fortunate not to give a spot-kick away moments later although he did slip into the attacker.
But two goals in the space of seven minutes, both also made by Tadic, proved to be decisive as Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic emerged from the bench and soon sent a superb lob over the stranded Mark Travers before thumping a header in from close range.
James Collins would set up an interesting finale following good work from Shane Long but it wasn’t to be as Kenny’s winless run in charge stretches to nine.
Mark Travers; Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark (Robbie Brady 79), Dara O’Shea; Matt Doherty, Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick 61), Alan Browne (James Collins 79), Josh Cullen, Enda Stevens; Callum Robinson (James McClean 79), Aaron Connolly (Shane Long 67).