The World Cup Group E opener between Costa Rica and Serbia was settled by the stunning goal that the occasion deserved.
These two sides began their Russia 2018 campaign under sunny Samara skies on Sunday but despite the abundant quality on show, profligacy was the underlying theme until Aleksandar Kolarov struck in spectacular fashion just prior to the hour to earn a 1-0 win for his side.
It had been an eventful start for the Serbia captain, who sparked fears by going down clutching his knee during the warm-up and then within eight minutes had been caught out of position to hand Marcos Urena an opportunity, crashed into the same man at full tilt and smashed a trademark 30-yard howitzer comfortably wide.
Shortly before Kolarov's marvellous free-kick, his team-mate Aleksandar Mitrovic had fluffed a golden chance, while early in the first half Costa Rica's Giancarlo Gonzalez headed over from six yards - a miss he would come to regret.
Defeat was tough on the 2014 quarter-finalists and their fans, who congregated in two large pockets either side of the media seats and made an almighty din.
The story had been much the same outside the ground - once one had moved to within the rather ominous and uninviting perimeter fence at Samara Arena.
Built to look like a huge UFO from the outside - in line with the city's strong links to the space industry - the stadium is surrounded by vast open areas.
Those tarmac tundras felt soulless 24 hours earlier, but on matchday both sets of supporters brought the venue to life.
A brass band provided the musical accompaniment while fans mingled freely - trying their hand at defeating a robo-keeper from the penalty spot or joining the long queues for an alcohol-free beer.
Predictions were shared - one Costa Rican gentleman may feel sheepish after foreseeing a 3-0 victory for his side - while earlier in the day, a group of Serbia supporters close to the FIFA fan fest in Samara centre were more circumspect in claiming a 2-1 result in their favour.
That was shortly before their party was supplied with a bottle of vodka for the table at around 11:30 local time. Had they been asked an hour later, the prediction may well have been more boisterous.
The wall of noise and colour from outside the ground was soon transported indoors, where the nearby Costa Rica fans in particular made it difficult to hold a conversation with a colleague sat three yards away.
With its broken-eggshell design around the top tier, and a bright oval of sunshine fixed relentlessly on one stand, the stadium looked a picture. Costa Rica fans will not agree, but Kolarov's goal was befitting of the spectacle.
16 de febrero 2019
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