Despite narrow defeat at the Makis Stadium in Belgrade, Spain’s patient, determined display ensured their greatest outcome since making their international debut in May 2014. In order to overtake the Spaniards, retain European Championship B and remain on the qualification trail for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup, Serbia need to win by a margin of 14 points.
When full back Brandon Janjic crossed with nine minutes remaining, although Vojan Dedic missed his third shot at goal, the hosts were 10 points ahead, and on course to achieve their objective. But Anthony Delgado’s stoic late touchdown, powering through three defenders, settled Spanish nerves and confirmed their passage instead.
With all three sides ending with a home victory and an away defeat, this result also meant that Russia, courtesy of their 18-point triumph against the Serbians last week, headed the European B table.
“I’m speechless,” said a near-overwhelmed but beaming Spanish coach Darren Fisher, on the final whistle. “We want to create history, this is absolutely massive, it’s so important to us. We are pushing so many boundaries and this result says we are here, we are making our mark.”
Spain will now join the winners of European C, either Norway or Greece, as third seeds in next year’s final European WC qualifying group, whilst Russia and Italy will be second seeds. Such are the fine margins. Serbia is relegated to European Championship C for the first time in their history, while the winner of the Greece v Norway play-off will be promoted.
SERBIA 24 : 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
SPAIN 20 : 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