Serbia threw caution to the wind and everything they had at fast, slick and disciplined Brazilian defence but came up short and were punished by brilliance at the other end, coach Mladen Krstajic acknowledged.
Defeat at the death by Switzerland in Group E’s blood and thunder all-European clash on Friday left the Serbs needing to beat the five-times champions on Wednesday to be sure of qualifying ahead of the Swiss. But a goal in each half for Paulinho and Thiago Silva were the price for their enterprise.
“We were on the front foot in the first half except for the moment when Brazil scored,” Krstajic told reporters. “It is those moments when players’ individual qualities come through.”
“We went out to win against a powerhouse in modern football and we came up short. I congratulate my players for their brave efforts, their attitude to the badge and the jersey.
“We pressed high and in the second half. We tried to take risks … But it’s very difficult to play such an open game against such a football powerhouse like Brazil.
“That’s how it goes in football. We have to up our game.
“We took more risks in the second half. We had our chances but we were punished,” Krstajic added.
Serbia did indeed have their moments and put Brazil under concerted pressure before Silva’s strike from a Neymar corner after 68 minutes put the result beyond them and freed the Brazilians up to dazzle and tease with their possession.
But Brazil’s defence had rarely in truth looked more than mildly troubled, a fact Krstajic acknowledged
“When you’re defending, you have to be disciplined,” he said. “And this just shows how powerful Brazil really is.”
While Brazil go on to be — again — one of the favourites for the World Cup in Russia, Serbia head home from their first major international tournament since the 2010 World Cup.
“The players gave their all,” said Krstajic, a former international defender who was promoted to coach from assistant when Slavoljub Muslin was sacked last October after leading the side to qualification for Russia.
“We came to the World Cup to show our true colours after eight years of missing out on major tournaments,” he said.
“We can be very satisfied with our performance,” he went on, highlighting the toll taken on his players by heavy schedules for their clubs over the preceding season.
The turning-point of their campaign, however, after an opening 1-0 win over Costa Rica was the 2-1 defeat by the Swiss after leading before conceding a winner in the last minute
“We knew they were a tough opponent,” Krstajic said. “What happened happened. We lost 2-1. That’s life.”