June 17, 2018 / 3:42 PM / 6 months ago

Coach Krstajic relieved as clique-free Serbia win opener

SAMARA, Russia (Reuters) - Serbia coach Mladen Krstajic was a relieved man following his side’s 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in their opening World Cup Group E match on Sunday.

Soccer Football - World Cup - Group E - Costa Rica vs Serbia - Samara Arena, Samara, Russia - June 17, 2018 Serbia's Luka Milivojevic throws his jersey to fans at the end of the match REUTERS/David Gray

Aleksandar Kolarov’s sensational free kick was the difference between the sides in Samara, giving Serbia their first opening match victory in a World Cup since France in 1998.

The match was also Krstajic’s first competitive game in charge of the national team, having taken over in October when qualification was secured.

The 44-year-old admitted he had been under pressure in the build-up to the game.

“There was a great deal of pressure on the players and I felt pressure over the past five or six months,” Krstajic told reporters.

“It was my debut with the national team. I am a person who likes to take responsibility.”

The coach also suggested the team spirit in the Serbian camp had been different than in recent years.

“I am very happy, I am very proud of my players for their team effort and, without any false modesty, all of us highlighted the excellent atmosphere in the team,” he said.

“It’s the first time there are no clans or cliques within this squad of players.”

Serbia secured victory despite striker Aleksandar Mitrovic missing a big chance in the second half.

“I know his qualities, everyone does. He lacked luck but we will keep him for the remaining games as he is an important cog in our machine,” Krstajic said. “I have no doubts about Mitrovic.”

Serbia have gone out at the group stage in their last two World Cups, in 2010 and 2006, but are now in a strong position heading into their match with Switzerland, who play Brazil later on Sunday.

“Regarding Switzerland, we have analysed all three opponents and how they have played over the past few months,” Krstajic said.

“We know everything about Switzerland and now we will watch then against Brazil to make sure we don’t miss everything.”

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Man of the match Kolarov is already focusing on the Switzerland game in Kaliningrad on Friday.

“The match against Switzerland is going to be the most difficult one,” he said.

“We have an advantage but I do not want to do the maths yet. The best thing in football is that, win or lose, there is another match coming. There isn’t time to celebrate or to mourn.”

Reporting by Jack Tarrant, editing by Ed Osmond

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