MOSCOW, RUSSIA – In the build up to the World Cup, Britwatch Sports will look at every group and give our predictions on who will finish where. Today we look at Group E which features Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
June 17th: Costa Rica vs Serbia (13:00)
June 17th: Brazil vs Switzerland (19:00)
June 22nd: Brazil vs Costa Rica (13:00)
June 22nd: Serbia vs Switzerland (19:00)
June 27th: Serbia vs Brazil (19:00)
June 27th: Switzerland vs Costa Rica (19:00)
Previous Best: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994 and 2002)
Qualifying: First in CONMEBOL
Group E sees the arrival of the most decorated side in international football in Brazil. Canarinho have been World champions on five occasions, and 16 years after their most recent World Cup win, are many peoples’ favourites to go all the way Russia this summer.
With a squad approaching close to a £1bn in value, Tite’s men have had an impressive warm-up campaign beating both Croatia and Austria without conceding a goal, after cruising through qualification. The Brazilians and world number one ranked side may boast the most expensive player in the world in Neymar, but there are goals across the pitch in the form of Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, and even the more defensive-minded players in Marcelo and Casemiro are not shy from a goal or two. Perhaps crucially however, their defence seems water-tight.
The options for Brazil are plentiful this year, which is the only issue I can see in selecting the right starting XI. Though Group E is one of the more tricky groups to negotiate I don’t see the Selecao having too many problems and could go into the group stages with a 100% record. Fancy to reach the semi’s but could go all the way.
Having finished behind England in qualifying, Switzerland scrambled through the play-offs via Ricardo Rodriguez’s controversial goal at Windsor Park against Northern Ireland.
The Swiss will be relying heavily on the contributions of their wide men in Rodriguez, new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner but most importantly Xherdan Shaqiri. After Stoke City’s relegation, the winger will very much be playing in the shop window and will be carrying the hopes of a nation once more.
Die Nati have always been tough to break down and defence and the pairing of Fabian Schar and Michael Lang will be a useful partnership, but despite the Swiss rather false ranking of sixth best side in the world, I cannot see the alpine nation progressing from a difficult group.
Costa Rica were arguably the surprise package of the last World Cup in Brazil four years ago. Los Ticos stunned both England and Italy in the group stages in South America, and after beating Greece on penalties made it into the last eight.
Had it not been for Tim Krul’s heroics for the Netherlands in Salvador – after being brought on by manager Louis van Gaal in the final minute of extra time – the Central America may yet have reached an astonishing semi-final berth.
The task of replicating 2014 for the Costa Ricans however, will be a tough one in a group that boast some of the best defences in the tournament. They have capable players in Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, plus Oscar Duarte has proved his aerial prowess from set-pieces with Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas on his day a very able stopper. But I have my doubts whether they can really get their teeth into this group and had little to show in attack against England at Elland Road last Thursday. Could be a difficult time in Russia ahead.
For me, Serbia are one of a number of dark horses that could go well into the tournament. Similar to Gareth Southgate with the Three Lions, Mladen Kristajic leads the Eagles into the tournament as a former 59-cap defender for his country.
The Serbs were hugely impressive in qualification in a group ahead of Wales, Ireland and Austria and despite taking part in just their second World Cup as an independent nation, have a number of extremely capable players in their ranks.
Boasting one of Europe’s hottest properties in Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Serbia have the creativity to cause real problems with Dusan Tadic, Filip Kostic and Adam Llajic, with a strong partnership of Luka Milivojevic and Nemanja Matic in defensive midfield.
Aleksandar Mitrovic has proven his credential as a capable striker at the top level and his hat-trick against Bolivia over the weekend, will have been a timely fillip ahead of the trip out to the motherland. The only only issue I foresee could lie in having to face Brazil last up with a shaky defence.
Eight years ago the Serbs beat Germany famously in South Africa but still failed to progress out of their group, but this squad have bags of talent and threat and that should be enough to progress though Group E, although probably only in second spot. That will likely present a last 16 meeting with the Germans which leaves Serbia’s progression any further in some doubt.
The XXI FIFA World Cup Starts on June 14, as Russia host Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s curtain-raiser in Moscow at 4pm UK time.
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