Republic end goal drought but Mitrovic's double is decisive for Serbia

The Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench to score twice in the second half as Serbia beat the Republic of Ireland 3-2 in qualifying Group A for the 2022 World Cup

The Republic of Ireland ended their epic goal drought and were on course for a bright start to their World Cup campaign until Aleksandar Mitrovic came off the bench.

The Fulham striker scored twice in quick succession to build on Dusan Vlahovic’s first-half effort, which had cancelled out the lead given to Stephen Kenny’s men by Alan Browne. A late goal by James Collins was not enough to salvage a point from an honourable Irish performance.

Kenny’s wait for a first win since his appointment as Ireland manager goes on. If it does not come at home against Luxembourg on Saturday, then Ireland can probably forget about returning to the world stage after an absence of two decades.

Yet green shoots of hope could be seen in their display in Belgrade, where, with a side weakened by injuries and after seven matches without a goal, they took a deserved lead.

Kenny made bold selections and his answer to the riddle of how to fit two of Ireland’s best players into the team was to alter formation, deploying Séamus Coleman in a back three while Matt Doherty started at right wing-back. Browne and Josh Cullen did well in midfield and the Preston man opened the scoring with a lovely goal that vindicated the manager’s formation. Enda Stevens, the left wing‑back, foraged down the flank before serving the vibrant Callum Robinson, who clipped a dainty cross to the back post. Browne jumped highest and guided a downward header into the corner of the net.

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Serbia, too, are in transition with two debutants in the lineup chosen by their new manager, Dragan Stojkovic. But they have class up front that Ireland simply do not. They demonstrated that just before the break, when Vlahovic beat Dara O’Shea to a flick-on by the inventive Dusan Tadic and finished without fuss. Ireland had defended smartly up to that and continued to do so as the hosts forced them backwards.

It took ingenuity from Mitrovic to shoot Serbia in front. Five minutes after being introduced, he took a pass from Tadic and sent an elegant lob from 20 yards over Mark Travers, the 21-year-old goalkeeper making his competitive international debut.

Mitrovic soon sealed his side’s win, heading another fine cross by Tadic beyond Travers. Ireland fought back, with Shane Long pouncing on a defensive mistake to enable James Collins to make it 3-2.

“The players were terrific,” Kenny said. “I can’t believe we conceded three goals because it didn’t look like that sort of match. [Serbia] have been ruthless with their finishing. We’re really disappointed.”


Paul Doyle

The GuardianTramp

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