Gritty Belarus keep Serbia in check

Belarus 0-0 Serbia
The teams had to settle for a point apiece in Malmo, meaning it is advantage Italy and Sweden going into Tuesday's Group A finale.

Gritty Belarus keep Serbia in check
Gritty Belarus keep Serbia in check ©

Serbia and Belarus had to make do with a point apiece after a game of few chances in Malmo.

Neither side was able to find the breakthrough in a match dominated by near-misses, set-pieces and tactical tinkering. The end product for the Group A rivals was an unsatisfactory stalemate which left them lagging behind Italy and Sweden in the pool.

Early chances
There had been early promise when Gojko Kačar and Zoran Tošić made incursions into the Belarus box, with the former creating a shooting chance for Ljubomir Fejsa which was blocked bravely by Dmitri Verkhovtsov. However, the first trouble for either goalkeeper arrived from Belarus's fair-haired No7 Sergei Krivets, whose long-range strike forced Željko Brkić to tip over. No sooner had the same player crossed dangerously for Vladimir Yurchenko, than at the other end Pavel Chesnovski was turning to safety a low drive from Tošić. Belarus coach Yuri Kurnenin had demanded more aggression from his players, and they were certainly giving as much as they were getting at the Malmö New Stadium.

Changed lineup
Serbia coach Slobodan Krčmarević had brought Marko Milinković into his front three, replacing the injured Nemanja Matić, with Kačar dropping into midfield. Even from there Kačar looked the likeliest source of Serbian menace as the first half unfolded. It was from a Kačar corner that big centre-half Verkhovtsov made a timely interception to deny Jagoš Vuković a free header. Serbia appeared to have the edge physically, yet Kurnenin's team – featuring three novelties after the Sweden defeat, in Maksim Bordachov, Mikhail Sivakov and Yurchenko – were holding them at bay.

Close calls
Krčmarević's response was to restore Kačar to a more attacking role for the second half, a vacancy created by taking off Milinković for Ivan Obradović. Openings were still scarce in an increasingly cagey contest. Sivakov made space for Leonid Kovel to blast over from distance. Miralem Sulejmani's free-kick produced a headed half-opportunity for Nemanja Pejčinović. Set-pieces remained an option for Serbia, and they went close when Tošić's in-swinger was touched centimetres over by a combination of Kačar and Belarus defender Nikolai Osipovich.

No way through
It was somewhat out of context, then, when Kovel was able to run unchecked into the Serbia area with 70 minutes gone. His good work was spoiled by a theatrical tumble, however. Substitute Andrei Chukhlei should also have done better than lay the ball back for the covering Fejsa at the end of a promising Belarus break. Pejčinović was just as wasteful when he crashed the ball over after Kačar fed him from a Nemanja Tomić free-kick. The flashing both of five minutes' stoppage time, and of Tošić's left foot from a free-kick, suggested a late twist that never arrived – a game that yielded only five shots on target had drawn a blank.