Crystal Palace captain Luka Milivojevic made his World Cup debut against Costa Rica yesterday, putting in a typically combative performance in the middle of the park, complete with a moment that raised mischievous smiles across south London shortly before the full-time whistle sounded.
Having seen Serbia edge into a 1-0 lead over their group rivals thanks to a wonderfully directed free-kick from Aleksandar Kolarov in the 56th minute, midfield enforcer Nemanja Matic was keen not to let the advantage slip, prompting a moment of conflict late on when he tussled for the ball with a member of the Costa Rican coaching staff by the touch-line. As you would expect, both sets of players quickly ran to get involved, resulting in Milivojevic getting a slap to the face which he shook off without a second thought.
Given the histrionics being shown by many so far in this World Cup, it was refreshing to see a group of players so keen to show a more gritty side to the game in their defence of Matic on Sunday afternoon. Had Milivojevic gone down holding his face in mock agony there is every chance that a VAR review would have led to the offending Costa Rican being sent off but it’s quite simply not Luka’s style. Instead, he shook it off and ensured that the rest of his teammates were looked after which I don’t mind admitting, left me feeling extremely proud.
Thanks to Brazil’s 1-1 draw with Switzerland later on yesterday evening, Milivojevic and Serbia now sit proudly on top of the group after the first round of fixtures, with a win in their second group game against the Swiss almost certain to be enough to carry them into the knockout stages of the tournament.
Having not taken part in the 2014 World Cup, this is Luka’s first taste of international football on the biggest stage. I wonder how long he can keep his 100% win ratio alive?