Late heroics from substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic earned Serbia a 3-2 home win over the Republic of Ireland in their first World Cup 2022 qualifying game in Group A.
The Fulham striker scored five minutes after coming on in the 63rd minute to give Serbia a 2-1 lead with an incredible first-time lob over Mark Travers from outside of the box after Dusan Tadic set him free down the right flank.
Mitrovic then scored his record-breaking 38th international goal when he rose above the Irish defence a few minutes later to head home from a Tadic cross floated from the left.
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The inexperienced Ireland side worked hard to frustrate Serbia and Alan Browne’s early opener gave them some hope they would be able to clinch a plucky win. The Preston North End midfielder headed in Callum Robinson’s dinked cross after 18 minutes.
However, Tadic’s first of a hat-trick of assists - a header into the path of Vlahovic to strike into the far corner - cancelled out Browne’s effort on the 40-minute mark.
Substitute James Collins gave Ireland another glimmer of hope in the last 10 minutes when a defensive mix-up allowed him to prod the ball into an empty net and make it a tense conclusion to the game.
But Serbia held on to make a winning start to world cup qualification and become the first leaders of Group A, sitting ahead of Portugal on goal difference. They host Portugal on Saturday, while Ireland have the easier task of playing at home to Luxembourg.

TALKING POINT

Ireland finally score. One great big sigh of relief was probably heard all across the country when Browne netted early on for the Republic of Ireland. His second international goal ended a seven-game goal drought for The Boys in Green dating back to September 3, 2020 - a 1-1 Nations League draw with Bulgaria in Stephen Kenny's first game as manager.
In the absence of key players such as Conor Hourihane, Callum O'Dowda and James McCarthy, the Irish manager decided to give youth a chance, starting an XI in which Seamus Coleman and Ciaran Clark's combined total of 90 international caps exceeded the other nine players' overall tally of 81.
It was then perhaps ironic, not only that Ireland scored not once, but twice, and still couldn't get a result, but also that the introduction of Shane Long for his 86th international cap gave them added impetus and led to their second goal of the night, which he assisted.

Republic of Ireland celebrate scoring against Serbia

Image credit: Getty Images

MAN OF THE MATCH - Dusan Tadic

Captain for club and country and it is easy to see why. Tadic led by example with a hat-trick of assists. Even when Serbia were struggling to find some fluidity and make a breakthrough in the first half, Tadic's skill and movement were evident as he was involved in practically every single one of their attacks. Then when Mitrovic came on, their mutual understanding was excellent. He also led the game in terms of chances created and take-ons, with both stats highlighting his ability for creating something from nothing.

PLAYER RATINGS

Serbia: Dmitrovic 5, Milenkovic 6, Mitrovic 5, Pavlovic 6, Gajic 7, Lukic 7, Racic 7, Mladenovic 6, Tadic 9, Vlahovic 8, Djuricic 7
Subs: Kostic 6, Mitrovic 9, Maksimovic 6, Gudelj 5, Jovic N/A
Ireland: Travers 4, Clark 5, O'Shea 5, Coleman 5, Stevens 5, Doherty 7, Browne 7, Cullen 6, Molumby 5, Robinson 6, Connolly 5
Subs: Hendrick 6, Long 7, Collins 7, McClean 6, Brady 6

KEY MOMENTS

18' - GOAL!!! Browne ends Ireland's 7-game streak without a goal to make it 1-0! He guides a header into the far corner of the goal after Robinson's delightful dink into the box.
40' - GOAL!!! Vlahovic equalises with his second international goal in a row! Tadic heads the ball into the path of the Fiorentina striker and he sends it darting into the bottom corner leaving Travers bereft in the Irish goal.
44' - SAVED!! Djuricic close to scoring again! This time it's a pinpoint through ball to him to the right of the goal and Travers stays firm to guard his near post.
52' - PENALTY APPEAL! Connolly is brought down from behind by a sliding challenge from Mitrovic. The referee insists there was nothing wrong with the tackle and there's no VAR to double check.
69' - GOAL!!! That's one of the best goals I've seen so far this year!! Tadic passes it into space for Mitrovic on the right and he lobs the ball over Travers from outside of the box without even bothering to take a touch before! World-class finish. 2-1 Serbia.
75' - GOAL!!! He's done it! Mitrovic rises above the Irish defence to complete a quickfire double with his record-breaking 38th international goal. It's a lovely, well-timed header over Travers to meet Tadic's cross floated in from the left. 3-1 Serbia and a hattrick of assists for Tadic. Why can't Mitrovic do this in the Premier League?!
86' - GOAL!!! Wait! Could there be hope for Ireland?! A comedy of errors from Serbia leads to them pulling a goal back. Long, in typical fashion, chases the ball into the box and even beats the Serbian 'keeper Dmitrovic to it before laying it off to Collins to tap it into an empty net!

Key stat

Mitrovic has now scored more goals for Serbia (4) this season than he has for Fulham (3).

Republic of Ireland celebrate scoring against Serbia

Image credit: Getty Images

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