Serbia had a golden chance to clinch a berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but missed it. Knowing a win would have sent them straight to the tournament, they could not get the job done and ended losing 3-2 against Austria.
Serbia netted the first goal thanks to Luka Milivojević in the 11th minute, but Austria came from behind to secure the three points. Guido Burgstaller (25′) and Marko Arnautovic (76′) put Austria in front, but Nemanja Matic equalised late in the second half (83′). All signs indicated the game would end with a draw, but Arnautovic sealed the winner with a deflection from close range in the 89th minute.
Here are four things we learned from this game.
Serbia could not clinch a World Cup berth
This one is rather obvious. Serbia needed to win the match to automatically secure a berth in Russia, but failed to do so. And if we are honest, Serbia did not have a good performance, especially considering what was at stake for them.
The team needed the three points, but produced a lackluster display. They did not show intensity, at times looked overmatched by Austria’s physicality, and the defensive line looked rather weak. As if that was not enough, the attacking players posed little to no threat to the opposing defence. And if we mix all those things, it is quite impossible to get a win. Especially when you are playing on the road in such a tough scenario as Vienna.
Slavoljub Muslin’s men, however, depend on themselves to win the Group
Despite the loss, not everything is negative for the Serbian side. Sure, they failed to clinch the World Cup berth away from home. But they still have the top option to win Group D since they lead with 18 points. The stage is set for them, even though Wales (17) and Ireland (16) are breathing down their neck.
Serbia’s final game on the Qualifiers campaign should be a relatively easy one, as they host Georgia. Serbia are considerably better, and they should not have many problems to get past The Crusaders. And if they secure the three points, then they should win the Group. They still have a two-point lead over Wales, and they need to take advantage of every chance they can get to top Georgia. Othewise, things could get more complicated than expected. And they do not want to finish in second place, because teams like Italy, Sweden and Croatia could – potentially – await for them on a playoff round.
Austria fully deserved the three points
Austria started the game as underdogs, but came away with massive win. And if we are being fair, they fully deserved the three points in this one. The hosts dominated most of the game, and they looked genuinely impressive during the second 45 minutes as they created lots of clear scoring opportunities. And even though Serbia equalised late in the second half, Austria came away with the three points with a huge win thanks to Arnautovic’s brace.
The numbers do not lie. Austria had the edge on possession (52 to 48), shots (21-8), shots on target (8-4), chances created (4-0) and corner kicks (8-1), among other stats. And it would not have been strange had they won by a bigger margin.
It is inevitable to start thinking what would have happened if Austria had played the entire Qualifying campaign like this. For the first time in quite a while, they looked composed at the back and extremely dangerous on the attacking third. But that was not the case in past matches, as they often looked inaccurate and out of ideas. Those same problems were the ones Austria experienced during the entire Qualifiers. And that is the reason why they do not have chances to reach the World Cup with one game left on the schedule.
Everything will be decided in the final match
The Group D standings got extremely tight. With one game left on the schedule, Serbia are on top with 18 points, but Wales (17) and Ireland (16) still have a shot to reach a direct World Cup berth.
Serbia have the easier game at home against Georgia. Meanwhile, Wales and Ireland will play against each other in an authentic final. Whoever wins that game will secure either a play-off berth, or the top spot in case Serbia do not defeat Georgia. Both games will be played on October 9 at 19:45 BST.
Austria: Lindner (6); Bauer (7), Danso (6), Dragovic (7), Wöber (5); Baumgartlinger (6), Ilsanker (7); Grillitsch (7) (Lazaro (-), 77′), Kainz (7) (Schaub (6), 61′), Arnautović (8); Burgstaller (7) (Gregoritsch (-), 82′)
Serbia: Stojković (7); Ivanović (6), Nastasić (6), Mitrović (5); Rukavina (6) (Ljajić (5), 69′), Milivojević (7), Matić (7), Kolarov (6); Tadić (7), Gacinović (6) (Prijović (-), 87′); Mitrović (6)
Goals: Milivojević (0-1, 11′), Burgstaller (25′, 1-1), Arnautović (2-1, 76′), Matić (2-2, 83′), Arnautović (3-2, 89′)
Referee: Pavel Kralovec (CZE)
Yellow Cards: Wöber (43′), Ilsanker (44′), Burgstaller (55′), Bauer (70′), Dragovic (90+2′) (AUT)
Red Cards: None
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