22 Oct 2018
Rugby League World Cup qualifier; Serbia 24 Spain 20 - Report
Spain progress to the next stage at the expense of Serbia.
The winners lay spread eagled on the turf, inconsolable. The losers laughed and embraced, posing for photos under the goalposts with their national flag, talking about little other than the beckoning bars of Belgrade.
Not so long ago rugby league’s World Cup didn’t even have a qualifying tournament. Now, the elimination from contention, three years out from the next one, prompts utter desolation.
Serbia needed to beat Spain by 14 points or more at Makis Stadium on Saturday to progress in qualifying for England 2021. Their cause was not helped by both touch judges being over-ruled by the referee - twice - when they raised their flags for first half conversions.
With team-mate Ivan Ordaz revived by ambulance officers after swallowing his tongue and, according to his coach, ceasing to breath twice, the Spaniards scored a late try to ensure they would progress.
Coach Darren Fisher fought back tears as he said of Ordaz:
“He was knocked out. He lost consciousness twice and then he stopped breathing twice. We stayed focused. We still had a job that we had to do. We stick together as a family, that’s our rule. When you see a guy down, it’s not just a player, it’s a family member."
Play was held up for around 10 minutes as ambulances officers performed CPR on Ordaz.
It was a crucial stage of the game. The Serbians had edged ahead with the scores 14-14 at the break and looked capable of covering the necessary points spread.
It was Spaniard Anthony Delgado who scored the late try that sent Serbia back to European Championship C for the first time.
Spain and Russia now progress; they join Greece or Norway in the final qualifying group.
The Serbians were not helped the previous week when their Australia-based players and Aussie coach Brett Davidson were denied Russian visas. The defeat put them under pressure to win by more than two converted tries at the weekend and former Australian coach of the year Phil Economidis addressed them before kick-off on the need to control the ruck and display composure throughout.
That composure was missing at times with poorly directed passes and penalties. Not quite as physically imposing as their opponents, the Spanish had what Australians call "footy smarts" - led by Palares.
Asked what it would mean to qualify for England 2021, Fisher said:
“I don’t think I could put that into words.In 2014, the board asked me: ‘do you think you can take us to the World Cup?’. We missed out last year but the dream’s still there. And we’ll go again. And we’ll make sure we give ourselves the best chance to get there.”
Brandon Janjic, Milos Zogovic, Aleksandar Djordjevic, Stevan Stevanovic, Rajko Trifunovic, Vojislav Dedic, Dalibor Vukanovic, Milos Calic, Dzavid Jasari, lija Radan, Predrag Keglic, David Andjelic, Vladimir Milutinovic
Substitutes: Jonathan Kress, Jason Muranka, Milos Aleksic, Djordje Stosic
Tries: Stevanovic (4), Milutinovic (27), Zogovic (35), Kress (50), Janjic (71)
Goals: Dedic 2/5
Luc Franco, Daniel Morales, Antonio Puerta, Alex Doutres, Hadriel Mehamed, Daniel Garcia, Romain Pallares, Raul Simo, Chris Lopez, Juan Mudarra, Kevin Aparicio, Rafael Garcia, Anthony Delgado
Substitutes: Ivan Ordaz, Aitor Romero, Fernando Vidal, Miguel Olivares
Tries: Franco (11), Simo (30), Delgado (78)
Goals: R. Garcia 4/5
Half time: 14-14
Referee: Tom Grant (England)
Man of the match: Luc Franco