With the FIFA World Cup 2018 set to kick off in a matter of days, we bring you the lowdown on Group E that consists of Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us. The much-awaited extravaganza of the summer will kick off in just over a week’s time as 32 teams go head-to-head in order to be crowned the champions of the world.
The draws for the group stages threw out a number of interesting match-ups and here at the Hard Tackle, we continue to bring you an extensive analysis of each of the eight groups, with Group E next in line.
Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia
June 17: Costa Rica v Serbia; Brazil v Switzerland
June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica; Serbia v Switzerland
June 27: Serbia v Brazil; Switzerland v Costa Rica
Brazil have come a long way from their nightmare in the 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup, when they were thrashed 7-1 at home by eventual champions Germany in the semi-finals. Under the guidance of manager Tite, the Selecao have managed to leave that disappointing evening at the Mineirao behind and have turned a new chapter.
Ranked 2nd in the world behind the Germans, Brazil have got their mojo back under Tite and it was very evident throughout their qualifying campaign, as they became the first team to seal their berth for the tournament in Russia coasting to easy victories over the likes of Argentina along the way.
Since taking over the national team, Tite has led them to a whopping 16 wins in 20 fixtures, while losing just once, highlighting the progress they have achieved post the days of former manager Dunga. The most successful side in the history of the competition, Brazil have lifted the FIFA World Cup as many as five times and heading into the tournament in Russia, are being tipped as one of the favourites to take home the trophy once again.
The manager announced the 23-man squad well in advance and there were no major surprises in store. The most notable absentee for the Samba Boys is veteran full-back Dani Alves who is ruled out with an injury, while Juventus star Alex Sandro also failed to make the cut, along with David Luiz. There was a place for the inexperienced Fagner and Pedro Geromel, with the usual suspects all making it to the squad.
Key Players: Neymar, Philippe Coutinho
Brazil’s biggest concern heading into the summer tournament was the fitness of Neymar. The swashbuckling attacker missed the latter months of the season for Paris Saint-Germain due to an injury and there were doubts if he will be ready for Russia.
And the answer to that would be a resounding yes. The 26-year old made his comeback in the 2-0 friendly win over Croatia this past weekend, scoring a sublime goal and sending out warning signals to his opponents.
Along with him, Brazil will be heavily relying on the guile and creative brilliance of Philippe Coutinho to make a difference from the middle of the park. The playmaker is coming on the back of a brilliant campaign and will be eager to stamp his authority on the biggest of the stages.
Ranked sixth in the world, this Switzerland side might not always seem to get the fans on the edge of the seats, but are a team that know how to get the job done and as a result are not one to be taken lightly by any means.
They had to make it to the main event in Russia via play-offs where they beat Northern Ireland over two legs, despite having tasted defeat just once in the qualifying stages. The Swiss made it only as far as the Round of 16 last time out in Brazil and haven’t managed to enter the quarterfinals even once, since way back in 1954.
A defensive unit that has shown resilience, combined with a number of players who can make a difference with their flair and skills in attack, Switzerland seem to have a well-rounded squad with good balance. And in Vladimir Petkovic, they have a manager who is tactically astute. However, the star players will all need to perform collectively, if they are to achieve serious progress.
The 23-man final squad that Petkovic announced on Monday will be led by veteran full-back Stephan Lichsteiner and will also comprise of established players like Xherdan Shaqiri, Valon Behrami, Roman Burki and Granit Xhaka, while former Arsenal defender Johan Djourou also found a place in the roster. Youngsters Manuel Akanji and Breel Embolo will be definitely worth keeping an eye out for.
Key Players: Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka
The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia will be Shaqiri’s third appearance at the blockbuster event. He’s been on around for so long that people sometime tend to forget that the attacking midfielder is just 26 years old.
Relegation from the Premier League with Stoke City wasn’t the most ideal preparation for Shaqiri heading to Russia, but given his quality and the innate talent, he will prove to be the difference maker for Switzerland.
Along with him, Arsenal midfield mainstay Granit Xhaka will be another pivotal element in this squad. The 25-year old has been passed fit for the tournament after an injury scare during training and will be key for Petkovic’s side in Russia, with his experience at the top level.
One of the biggest stories of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Costa Rica surprised one and all with their displays. Los Ticos topped Group D that also consisted of some heavy-hitters like Uruguay, Italy and England and made it as far as the quarter-finals where they were beaten by Netherlands on penalties. And they will be keen on repeating their heroics this time out as well.
This will be the fifth time the Central American nation is participating in the World Cup. Out of the four previous occasions, Costa Rica, ranked 25th in the world, have been ousted at the group stages twice (2002, 2006) and once in the round of 16 (1990), with their performance in the previous edition in Brazil being their best effort in the competition till date.
Los Ticos qualified as the runners-up in the fifth-round of the CONCACAF qualifiers only behind Mexico. Managed by former midfielder Oscar Ramirez, Costa Rica will be banking on the experience of key players like Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas and captain Bryan Ruiz to write another memorable tale in their short history in the biggest football tournament.
Costa Rica have the joint-oldest team in the tournament, along with Panama, with an average age of 29.6 years. Apart from Ruiz and Navas, Arsenal attacker Joel Campbell will also be a key cog, while the core of the players from the 2014 edition has been kept intact with the likes of Oscar Duarte, Celso Borges, Marco Urena and Yeltsin Tejeda all getting picked for the tournament.
Key Players: Keylor Navas
It was his performances in Brazil in 2014 that earned Keylor Navas his big move to Real Madrid where he has gone on to achieve great success. Coming fresh off the back of a third consecutive UEFA Champions League triumph with Los Blancos, the 31-year old will be high on confidence and will be hoping to inspire his international teammates to punch above their weight in Russia.
Serbia will be making just their second appearance in the FIFA World Cup since becoming an independent nation in 2006, with their previous outing coming in 2010 in South Africa, where they could not get past the group stages.
The Serbians enjoyed a brilliant qualifying campaign as they topped Group D of the UEFA qualifiers that also had the likes of Austria, Republic of Ireland and Wales in it, winning six and losing just one out of the ten fixtures. They also topped the goal-scoring charts in the group, netting 20 times, with Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic top-scoring.
However, there is an air of uncertainty surrounding their situation heading into Russia as they fired Slavoljub Muslin from the managerial post in October last year despite their successful qualifying campaign, appointing Mladen Krstajic as the new man in-charge.
Since taking over, the 44-year old has led Serbia to two wins and two losses each in five games. Given how little time he has had with the team, it could easily end up backfiring for the Eagles.
The squad is packed with seasoned campaigners and serial winners like Branislav Ivanovic, formerly of Chelsea, Aleksandar Kolarov and Manchester United’s midfield mainstay Nemanja Matic. Throw in a number of important members of the under-20 side that won the under-20 World Cup in 2015, like goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic, Andrija Zivkovic and the current talk of the town across Europe, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, there is a great blend of youth and experience within the ranks.
Key Players: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
A lot will be riding on the young shoulders of 23-year old striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was the leading goal-getter for the Eagles in the qualifying rounds with six strikes. Coming on the back of a strong season on loan with Fulham, he will be hoping to make a significant impact in Russia.
However, each time Serbia take the field, all eyes will be on midfielder Milinkovic-Savic. The 23-year old is coming on the back of a fantastic campaign in the Serie A with Lazio and is a subject of transfer interest for Manchester United and Juventus, with fees of over €80 million being mentioned in reports. Is he worth all the hype? Not long before we find out.
Likely to qualify: Brazil and Switzerland
Barring a shock capitulation once the tournament kicks off, one would expect this Brazil team to cruise through the group stages and top Group E without much of a fuss. Their recent form, the quality of players at their disposal and Neymar’s return to fitness means they could be unstoppable in the tournament.
The fight for the second spot is going to be very intense though, with not much to choose between Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. However, given their recent managerial change, the Serbians could be at a disadvantage just like the Costa Ricans’ lack of top class players could come to haunt them, paving the way for Switzerland to make it through to the knockout stages.