The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Late leveller by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

Associated Press Thursday, 20 June 2024, 19:50 Last update: about 27 days ago

A late strike denied Slovenia a first-ever win in a European Championship as Serbia snatched a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

Zan Karnicnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jovic leveled deep in stoppage time to keep Serbia's chances of advancing to the knockout stage alive.

The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field. By that point, the ground around both goals was littered with plastic cups that had rained down from the stands in the final 10 minutes, prompting announcements over the stadium's speakers urging the fans to stop.

The equalizer was virtually the last action as the referee blew fulltime immediately after the players restarted. The Slovenia players collapsed to the ground in disappointment.

“Serbs do not die so easily,” Serbia coach Dragan Stojkovic said. ”We do not give up and nor will we. We believe all the way to the end and the reward came for believing.

“We didn’t accept that we would lose to Slovenia tonight, we didn’t want to accept this result and that’s why the reward came.”

It would have been Slovenia's second win in a major tournament and its first since victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.

“Slovenia has shown that it has a place here at the European Championships,” Slovenia coach Matjaz Kek said. "Sports and football can be cruel but I believe karma will play its part for this team. We have played a fair game in an atmosphere for the ages.

“We have felt disappointment because we know how strong the Serbia players are, how good they are at dead-ball situations. There was a lack of concentration in the last minute but a big thank you to the players for the heart that they have shown in this arena.”

Slovenia — which drew against Denmark in their opener — plays England in its final group match on Tuesday, when Serbia faces Denmark. Serbia lost to England in its first match and could have found itself eliminated with a loss in Munich.

Serbia soccer officials threatened to quit the competition even before a ball had been kicked becasue of offensive fan chants reportedly heard during the Albania-Croatia match.

“I'm just focusing on the game,” Stojkovic said when asked about it. “Honestly speaking, I didn’t even read anything. Believe me or not, it’s true.”

With both teams needing a win on Thursday to boost their chances of progressing, the match started at a fast pace and Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic had to make two early saves.

Those two shots on target in the first eight minutes were as many as Slovenia had in total in its draw with Denmark.

The best chance of the half fell to Slovenia in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Timi Elsnik tried to pass to a teammate but the ball came off a Serbia defender and fell kindly back to him for a thunderous effort which crashed off the right post. Benjamin Sesko fired the rebound woefully over.

Slovenia eventually broke the deadlock with a move started and finished by Karnicnik. The defender won the ball deep inside his own half and ran some 40 yards before picking out Elsnik on the left and racing into the box to collect the cross and tap home at the back post.

Serbia almost leveled immediately but Aleksandar Mitrovic — who scored in his previous two matches against Slovenia — hit the crossbar.

Serbia threw everything at Slovenia in the final stages. Even Rajkovic came up for the final corner but it was Jovic who leapt highest to head it past Oblak in the fifth minute of added time.

“I love him very much” Stojkovic said.

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