Football | Ireland suffer defeat to Serbia in Belgrade
A brace from second half substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic has condemned the Republic of Ireland to a 3-2 defeat against Serbia in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier in Belgrade.
Ireland opened the scoring through Alan Browne in the 18th minute, but Dusan Valhovic drew the hosts level before the break at Stadion Rajko Mitic.
Fulham striker Mitrovic then came off the bench to score two excellent goals in the space of six minutes, before substitue James Collins pulled a goal back for the Boys in Green in the 86th minute.
Stephen Kenny opted for Mark Travers in goals - with Darren Randolph and Caoimhin Kelleher both ruled out through injury - with Seamus Coleman, Ciaran Clark, Dara O'Shea and Enda Stevens lining up in defence.
Matt Doherty started on the right of midfield, with Callum Robinson on the opposite flank, while Browne was joined by Josh Cullen and Jayson Molumby in central midfield. Aaron Connolly led the line as Ireland's lone striker.
After a quiet start to the game, Ireland took an 18th-minute lead when Robinson picked up possession on the left edge of the penalty area. He made a yard of space for himself before floating an inviting cross to the far post, where Browne rose to plant a firm downward header into the far bottom corner.
Serbia dominated possession and Ajax playmaker Dusan Tadic was dangerous throughout the half.
The hosts restored parity five minutes before the break when Dusan Valhovic ran onto Tadic’s clever flick-on and dispatched a left-footed shot past the helpless debutant Travers.
Serbia then threatened to take the lead in the dying moments of the half, with Travers denying Vlahovic from an acute angle and Tadic almost scoring directly from a corner.
The home side introduced Filip Kostic in place of Filip Mladenovic for the second half, but it was another substitute who was to turn the qualifier on its head.
Connolly saw a penalty appeal waved away early in the second half, while Valhovic had a goal correctly ruled out for offside at the other end.
The game was in need of a moment of magic, and Mitrovic was the man to produce it.
Tadic was instrumental once again, playing the striker through down Ireland's left.
Mitrovic spotted Travers off his line, and executed his chip beautifully from 25 yards, lifting the ball first time over the retreating Irish goalkeeper to give Serbia the lead in the 69th-minute.
Six minutes later, Mitrovic made it 3-1.
Tadic provided his third assist of the night, clipping a pinpoint cross into the box, which Mitrovic met with a powerful looping header which sailed over Travers into the net.
Kenny - who had introduced Jeff Hendrick for Molumby midway through the half - brought on Robbie Brady, James McClean, James Collins and Shane Long as the Boys in Green desperately searched for a way back into the game.
It was Collins who grabbed the visitors' second goal after Serbia failed to deal with a hopeful Brady pass over the top. Long showed good persistence and awareness to hook the ball back to Collins, who bundled the ball over to give Kenny's men a lifeline.
However, it was too little too late to earn a point in Belgrade, and Ireland's wait for a win under Kenny goes on.
Next up for Ireland is Luxembourg at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday.