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Kolarov fires 10-man Serbia past Ireland

Dublin (AFP) – Aleksandar Kolarov’s fierce second half strike gave Ireland their first 2018 World Cup qualifying defeat and put Serbia in complete control of Group D on Tuesday.

The Roma fullback’s goal came ten minutes after half time, and despite a spirited performance from the hosts the Serbs held on despite having Nikola Maksimovic sent off on 68 minutes.

Ireland drop to third, one point behind a Wales side that beat Moldova 2-0, and now require two wins against Moldova and Wales to earn at least a playoff spot.

Ireland boss Martin O’Neill made two changes to the side that disappointed with a 1-1 draw against Georgia, with fan favourite Wes Hoolahan starting in place of Harry Arter, while David Meyler got the nod ahead of veteran defensive midfielder Glenn Whelan.

Serbia, who enjoyed a 3-0 win over Moldova on Saturday, made four changes with Slavoljub Muslin introducing goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic, defenders Jagos Vukovic and Antonio Rukavina and midfielder Luka Milivojevic.

The visitors came to Dublin to play the “biggest game of the country’s history”, according to midfielder Nemanja Matic, but the first half suggested it meant more to the hosts.

Ireland, just two points behind Serbia before kick off, knew victory was crucial to their chances of qualifying and looked a different team to the one that struggled in Georgia.

Meyler and Hoolahan, the two replacements, enjoyed influential roles as O’Neill’s team rediscovered their ability to pass – a basic skill that appeared beyond them in Tbilisi.

Serbia threatened intermittently, with Shane Duffy throwing himself full length to block Matic’s early strike, and the Blackburn defender required seconds later to head clear in the box with Vukovic in wait.

– wonderful vision –

Duffy, who scored his first international goal in Georgia, had the ball in the net in the first half, but it was correctly disallowed for offside.

Muslin’s side looked dangerous on the break, with Christie’s pace required to deny Mitrovic a shot on goal after Dusan Tadic had slid through a perfectly weighted ball to the Newcastle United striker.

Randolph, in the Ireland goal, had not been that busy, but had to be switched on to deny the same forward when he connected with Kostic’s smart cut back.

Shane Long stung the fingers of Stojkovic with a speculative shot from distance, as Ireland and Hoolahan, the arch creator, battled to grab the opening goal.

But it was Serbia who opened the scoring through Kolarov.

Ireland had bodies back as the visitors attacked, but wonderful vision from Filip Kostic found Kolarov and he thumped home off the underside of the crossbar.

The hosts had 35 minutes still to score, and O’Neill switched things around almost immediately with Daryl Murphy replacing Hoolahan.

The striker made an instant impact – being pulled down on the edge of the box by Maksimovic when through on goal – earning the Serbian centre half a red card.

Brady’s subsequent free kick rebounded off the wall and the midfielder was booked as he chased it back, ruling him out of the Moldova game next month. McClean will miss it too, after picking up a yellow moments later.

Murphy looked to have won a penalty as he was held by Vukovic in the six yard box, but referee Cuneyt Caykir waved away the protestations.

Murphy remained centrally involved, drawing a save from Stojkovic with five minutes to go and then setting up Hourihane for a shot from distance.

But Stojkovic was not to be beaten, and despite an improved performance by Ireland, their World Cup hopes hang by a thread, while Serbia.

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