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Matic, Ivanovic hold firm, then crumble as Serbia succumb to Denmark behind closed doors

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Ian Walton/Getty Images

On a night when (Claudio Ranieri's) Greece lost at home to Faroe Islands -- just the fourth competitive away win for the visitors in 24 years -- and when France could only draw 1-1 in a friendly with Albania*, perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that a defense led by Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic conceded three times, twice to (Lord) Nicklas Bendtner.  That the match was played in an empty stadium thanks to the events of the match against Albania only added to the surrealism of it all.

* Kurt Zouma was on the bench, but was not called upon to make his senior debut.

Serbia actually started incredibly well, grabbing a goal in the first five minutes through Zoran Tosic and almost doubling their lead a few minutes later.  Matic started the move for that second chance, spreading the ball out wide to the left flank.  After a cross, a scuffed shot, a bicycle kick and associated wondersave from Kasper Schmeichel, it was that man Tosic again who found himself with the goal at his mercy.  But this time, he contrived to miss everything by a good margin from five yards out.

From that point on however, Serbia sat back deep and conceded possession, while looking for opportunities to counter.  With Denmark keeping the ball quite well, those opportunities were few and far between.  At the other end, despite over 66% possession, the only time Denmark threatened in the first half was when Nemanja Matic got sucked either too high (once) or too deep (once more).  Otherwise, the big man in the middle of the pitch was his usual, cool, dominating self, closing down and snuffing out dangers across the whole width of the formation, and relieving pressure with nonchalant strength and skill.  Captain and quite conservative right back Branislav Ivanovic hoovered up any loose balls in behind the defense as well and Serbia looked on course to grab all three points.

That all changed in the second half.  Christian Eriksen and Michael Krohn-Dehli were threatening with increasing regularity and they collected their reward when Eriksen's shot was parried into the path of Bendtner who easily beat Ivanovic to the ball and made no mistake.  Just a minute later, a bit of confusion in set piece marking between Matic and Dusko Tosic left Simon Kjaer wide open on the far post and from 1-0 down, Denmark were up 2-1 within the space of just a few minutes.  Serbia's shaky goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic almost gifted a third with a horrible clearance, but Ivanovic was on hand to kick the ball off the line.  Both teams also hit the woodwork, with Serbia's opportunity created from a wonderful driving run to the baseline and cutback by Matic.

Bendtner would grab a second with about five minutes to go after Ivanovic gave all the time in the world for Krohn-Dehli to pick out the forward, who beat the offside trap and walked in all alone to slot past Stojkovic.  Had there been any fans in the stands, they would've surely jeered the efforts of the home side, who remain five points behind Portugal for second place in the group and automatic qualifying for Euro 2016.