05.09.2016 at 20:45 Stadion Rajko Mitic Belgrade
2 - 2
Republic of Ireland
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hun)
World Cup Qualifier / PROG u21 as well-match
Paul Mc Shane
Aidan Mc Geady
REPORT: Serbia 2-2 Ireland
The Republic of Ireland senior international team commenced its qualifying campaign for World Cup 2018 with a 2-2 away draw in Belgrade against Serbia.
Match one of the 2018 World Cup Qualifying campaign came around quickly. An away match in Belgrade a serious round one obstacle.
But Ireland walked out onto the pitch showing little sign that they felt the pressure. And it only took a mere three minutes for the score to reflect this.
A low Brady drive was parried by the keeper into the path of John O’Shea and the big centre half semi-swivelled to return the ball back into the six yard zone. A bobble off a Shane Long shin into the path of Jeff Hendrick who hit a sweet strike with his left boot. A deflection off Ivanovic under the palms of the Serbian keeper into the back of the net. Not the most beautifully scripted of goals but the weight of its importance was reflected in Hendrick’s wide smile.
The game continued as pacey as it began, both teams moving the ball quickly and the objective clearly to be as direct as possible.
From a distance the pitch looked woeful. Replays only served to highlight the uneven nature of the pitch. Perhaps this added to the clear physicality of the football on show. Stephen Ward saw yellow as his strong challenge was deemed a fraction too strong. Hendrick suffered the same fate a short time later.
The Serbians grew into the game and began to gather a hold of possession. Darren Randolph was busy, being called into action three times in a matter of minutes. His second save in particular, a low left hand to the drive of Tadic, was vital.
The pressure from Serbia grew. A corner in the 35th minute resulted in a scramble in the box. Irish relief as the ball finally dribbled wide of the right post. With ten minutes to go until half time, it was about retaining the lead and allowing time to re strategize during the break.
Ireland’s other major chance came in the dying moments of the second half. Another Brady free kick, met by the head of Walters. This time Rajkovic’s parry was effective.
Serbia showed unrelenting pressure in the second half, and it soon paid off. O’Shea struggled to win a long pass into the Irish box and it broke through to an unmarked Kostic in front of goal. He made no mistake to coolly slot it by Randolph to make it a 1-1 game.
Ten minutes later and circumstances took a further dip for Ireland. Kostic touched the ball past Walters and went down in the box. The referee blew for a penalty and Tadic made no mistake to convert.
The increase of tired legs in the final fifteen was matched by an increase in drama. Serbia struck the crossbar, Ireland had a goal ruled out for offside, followed swiftly by a diving header from McClean over the bar.
And then the drama increased another notch. Substitute Daryl Murphy the hero of the moment in the 81st minute with a header from corner. Poor defending but an excellent conversion. 2-2 and the octave of the Belgrade noise grew again.
The dying minutes witnessed no mellowing of action. Ivanovic found himself clear on goal and his effort forced a sharp Randolph save, which deflected off Walters, and finally resulted a clearance from Coleman off the line.
As the final whistle blew so did the chests off the Irish contingent in Belgrade. An arduous task overcome, and a point that many others may struggle to achieve in future visits to the Serbian capital.
IRELAND: Randolph; Ward (Quinn 70), Keogh, O’Shea, Coleman, Brady, Hendrick; (Murphy 77), Whelan, McClean, Walters, Long; (Clark 90)
SERBIA: Rajkovic; Ivanovic, Nastasic, Vukovic, Rukavina, Mladenovic (D Tosic 76), Gudelj, Milivojevic, Kostic (Katai 82), Tadic, Mitrovic (Pavlovic 59)
Referee: Viktor Kassai (Hun)