football

World Cup Preview: Group E

June 11, 2018

- Grant Whittington

When every World Cup draw is made, fans of countries from across the globe will take the time to see which group Brazil will participate in. This highlights just how synonymous Brazil remains with this iconic tournament, with the five-time winners having been drawn in Group E for the 21st iteration in Russia.

But will Brazil top the group as expected, and who are the key contenders for the other qualification spot? Let’s find out…

 

Brazil
Brazil’s route to Russia started during the 2014 semi-finals, when they hosted Germany in Belo Horizonte. After a humiliating and unprecedented 7-1 defeat that left the nation distraught, Brazil began a rebuilding process that gathered genuine momentum under the astute leadership of manager Tite.

So, while the playing staff may not have changed much during the last four years, Brazil have restored their reputation as one of the world’s leading sides while also developing a balanced and progressive playing style.

The eight-time Copa America winners will start the Russian World Cup as 4/1 favourites, despite the last of their record-breaking five triumphs on the world stage coming back in 2002. They’ll definitely be confident of building on their fourth-place finish last time around, even though an opening game against Switzerland in Rostov on June 17th represents a tough challenge.

Seleção will then travel to St. Petersburg to face Costa Rica on 22nd June, before closing out Group E against Serbia on 27th June in Moscow.

Having topped their qualification and scored 41 goals in the process, Brazil certainly boast a talented squad, with everyone hoping that their talisman Neymar can retain full fitness for the whole tournament. Barcelona’s Phillipe Coutinho and Manchester City starlet Gabriel Jesus have added an additional layer of stardust since 2014, forming a thrilling front-three that will be difficult to stop.

Our Verdict: With defensive cover also provided in depth by players like Marcelo, Thiago Silva and the much-improved Fernandinho, Brazil have an outstanding side blessed with pace, skill and strength. So, not only should they top Group E comfortably, but there’s also a good chance that they’ll end up lifting the FIFA World Cup Trophy on July 15th.

Switzerland
Switzerland are scarcely fancied to achieve much when they head to a World Cup, and this year is set to be no exception.

Much of this has to do with the nation’s history at major tournaments, with the Swiss having only ever qualified for 11 out of 21 World Cup finals and 4 from 16 European Championships. At the same time, they’ve not reached the quarter-finals since 1954, although they have appeared at the last three World Cups and reached the knockout stages on two of these occasions.

They impressed during qualification for Russia, scoring an impressive 2-0 win against Portugal on match-day one to top the group. They maintained this lead by winning their next eight fixtures, only for the Portuguese to match this sequence and overhaul them with a 2-0 victory is Lisbon (this allowed Portugal to qualify on goal difference).

Still the Swiss edged out Northern Ireland 1-0 in the play-offs, setting the stage for them to open their World Cup campaign against Brazil next week. They’ll then meet group underdogs Serbia in Kaliningrad on June 22nd before travelling to Nizhny Novgorod to face Costa Rica on June 27th.

Liverpool target Xherdan Shaqiri remains Switzerland’s main man, despite the talented forwards struggles for Stoke City last season. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is also a key player in central midfield, while striker Haris Seferovic was the nation’s top scorer in qualifying with four goals.

Our Verdict: The Swiss have fared better at recent World Cups, while they were unlucky to lose against Poland on penalties in the second round of 2014. This makes them our favourites to join Brazil in qualifying from Group E, although in truth we can’t see them progressing beyond the first knockout round.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica were one of the surprise packages of the 2014 World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.

Incredibly, they did not make their tournament debut until 1990, since when they have qualified for five out of eight finals and produced some truly memorable World Cup moments. Interestingly, they’ve also been drawn with Brazil in the group stages, just as they were in Italia ’90.

In truth, Costa Rica’s squad is largely unchanged from four years ago, with the nation showcasing all their experience and pedigree while finishing second to Mexico during qualification. This was no mean achievement, particularly in a campaign that saw the USA finish in fifth place and miss out on a trip to Russia.

Costa Rica will certainly be determined to start their campaign with a win, as they take on Serbia in Samara on 17th June. After all, this is followed by tough fixtures against Brazil and Switzerland on matchday two and three respectively, so an early win will be crucial to their qualification chances.

Once again, Costa Rica’s main man is likely to be Real Betis’ on-loan striker Joel Campbell, who pace and eye for goal made him a key player in 2014. He’ll be ably supported by fellow forward Marco Ureña, of course, who scored three goals during qualification and holds the ball up well.

Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas is also likely to play a key role between the sticks, with his reflexes among the best and most renowned in football.

Our Verdict: While Costa Rica are a pacey and well-organised side, they looked well below their best during a recent friendly against England at Elland Road. So, although they’re capable of challenging Switzerland for second, much will depend on their ability to beat Serbia on matchday one.

Serbia
Overall, this will be Serbia’s 12th appearance at the World Cup finals, with the nation having appeared under various guises including Yugoslavia and Serbia & Montenegro.

Regardless, they have genuine pedigree on the world’s biggest stage, having earned fourth place in the first iteration of the tournament back in 1930. They’ve also reached three further quarter-finals since, although not since performing as Yugoslavia at Italia ’90.

Having not featured in Brazil 2014, Serbia qualified for Russia impressively, winning Group D by two points from runners-up Republic of Ireland. Under the stewardship of former centre back Malden Krstajić, the side is extremely well-organised and likes to play on the counter-attack, while they’ll see their opening game against Costa Rica as an excellent chance to steal a march on their rivals.

As you would, Serbia’s key players tend to play in defensive positions, with holding midfielder Nemanja Matic at the head of the queue. The Manchester United star is physically strong and competent in possession, while he’s excellent at protecting veteran defenders such as Branislav Ivanović. Former Manchester City left-back Aleksandar Kolorov is also a key performer, with his delivery from the left a potent weapon.

Our Verdict: While Serbia may be a tough nut to crack, Costa Rica and Switzerland are also extremely well-organised and are unlikely to adopt an open, expansive style against Krstajić’s side. This will make it hard for Serbia to maintain a consistent goal threat, and this may ultimately see them eliminated at the group stage.

 

 

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