Republic of Ireland started their FIFA 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 3-2 defeat in Belgrade as Serbia took the opening three points at the Rajko Mitic Stadium.
Stephen Kenny’s side had taken the lead through Alan Browne but Aleksandar Mitrović’s brace in the second half was the difference despite a late goal from James Collins.
Ireland did the early pressing in the opening minutes with a series of corners, Ciaran Clark came closest from those opportunities but his effort went wide. Despite a series of corners from the home side that was sent in by Dušan Tadić, Ireland defence marshalled by Seamus Coleman held firm to clear any danger.
Ireland took the lead in the 18th minute when Enda Stevens made a defence-splitting pass to Callum Robinson whose saw his cross met by Alan Browne at the back post. The PNE man did excellently to head the ball past Dmitrović to put Ireland in front.
Despite ample possession, Serbia was not able to make it count as Ireland continued to defend and break forward and they did so when Callum Robinson sent Enda Stevens through down the right-wing, however, the ball was cut out before Aaron Connolly could capitalise.
Serbia persistence did pay off as they equalised courtesy of Dušan Vlahović when he was set up by Tadić. He headed the ball forward into the striker’s path whose first-time effort went past Mark Travers to level terms for the home side.
Ireland started the second half in earnest with Aaron Connolly going close early on from an Stevens pull-back. Ireland continued their pressure and Connolly latched onto the end of a through-ball where he appeared to be taken down in the area but the referee didn’t deem it a foul, in the 51st minute. Ireland continued to press and an opportunity came into the path of Callum Robinson from Alan Browne cross but the danger was cleared.
Ireland had a great chance when Matt Doherty sent in an excellent ball into the area, Aaron Connolly left the ball to run but there wasn’t an Irish player to finish off the move. Dušan Vlahović went very close after an initial shot on the Ireland goal was going wide of the post but the striker was outstretched to tap it in and narrowly missed.
Aleksandar Mitrović gave the home side the lead when a clever pass from Tadic set up the striker and spotting Travers off his line he chipped it over the keeper to score. Mitrović added a second in the 75th minute when Tadic’s cross into the area was met by the striker with a powerful header.
Ireland got their second goal of the evening when James Collins scored his first competitive goal when Shane Long forced an error from Stefan Mitrović and Collins applied the finish despite under pressure. Ireland continued to rally in the final stages but couldn’t find the goal their play deserved.
Ireland faces Luxembourg next as Stephen Kenny’s side look to bounce back in the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.
Serbia: Marko Dmitrović (GK), Strahinja Pavlović, Filip Mladenović (Filip Kostić 46), Nikola Milenković (capt), Dušan Tadić (Nemanja Gudel 76), Stefan Mitrović, Uroš Račić (Nemanja Maksimović 62), Milan Gajić, Saša Lukić, Dušan Vlahović (Luk Jović 81), Filip Djuričić (Aleksandar Mitrović 62).
Subs not used: Predrag Rajković (GK), Đorđe Nikolić (GK), Uroš Spajić , Nemanja Radonjić, Mihailo Ristić, Sergej MilinkovićSavić, Marko Petković
Ireland: Mark Travers (GK), Seamus Coleman (capt), Enda Stevens, Ciaran Clark (Robbie Brady 79), Matt Doherty, Alan Browne (James Collins 79), Aaron Connolly (Shane Long 66), Callum Robinson (James McClean 79), Jayson Molumby (Jeff Hendrick 61), Josh Cullen, Dara O’Shea
Subs not used: Gavin Bazunu (GK), Kieran O’Hara (GK), Shane Duffy, Jason Knight, Daryl Horgan, Darragh Lenihan, Cyrus Christie
Referee: Davide Massa (ITA)