World Cup Group E Preview: Brazil Looks to Live Up to Expectations as Pre-Tournament Favorites

World Cup Group E Preview: Brazil Looks to Live Up to Expectations as Pre-Tournament Favorites

Soccer

World Cup Group E Preview: Brazil Looks to Live Up to Expectations as Pre-Tournament Favorites

We continue our 2018 World Cup previews with Group E, where Brazil takes the field in their quest to return to World Cup glory for the first time since 2002, in a tough group that also includes the talented Swiss, Costa Rica, and Serbia. The intrigue should surround who else can emerge from this group, and whether any of them can supplant Brazil as group winner (remember, Germany is in Group F opposite).

Other Group Previews:

Group A, Group B, Group C, Group DGroup F, Group G

KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH

NEYMAR, BRAZIL
Neymar is the best soccer player this side of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, and is coming off his first year following a shock move from Barcelona to Paris St. Germain. It should be no surprise that in this battle of egos Ronaldo is not happy about rumors about a return to Spain with the other power, Real Madrid.
For Brazil, Neymar’s back injury at the last World Cup was devastating, and the nation never recovered as they were embarrassed in the next round by Germany at home. Brazil looks like a young juggernaut this time around with Philippe Coutinho, Casemiro, and Gabriel Jesus. But Neymar is still the key figure that will determine just how far Brazil goes.
KEYLOR NAVAS, COSTA RICA

 (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images for International Champions Cup)

Keylor Navas played a massive role in Costa Rica’s run to the quarterfinals at the World Cup four years ago, allowing only one goal in the Group stage against England, Italy, and Uruguay, and standing on his head against Greece. He’s also been manning the backline for Real Madrid since that World Cup, through highs and lows (remember the David DeGea saga involving Madrid and Manchester United?) He’s been the starting goalkeeper for the last two Champions League title and is a revered figure in his home country. He will have to be great again to advance out of this tough group.
CASEMIRO, BRAZIL

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Casemiro will provide that most vital of roles in a team loaded with flair: the holding midfielder who can bridge the defense and offense. He’s played that role on the best club team in the world at Real Madrid behind the likes of Kroos, Ronaldo, Isco, and Modric, and he’ll do it for the Brazilians. He is in his prime and should be ready to stand up and make a huge impact at this World Cup.

THE PARTICIPANTS

BRAZIL

World Cup Finals Appearances: 20
Best Finish: Champions in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
FIFA World Rank: 2

Brazil has now gone since 2002 without a title, which is perfectly acceptable for most nations but not for the nation that brought us the Beautiful Game. Expectations were high last time because the event was in their home country, and the weight of those expectations were a burden, combined with the injury to Neymar in the quarterfinals that sunk the spirit of the team.

So even though they are the pre-tourney favorite (slightly, over several other nations), the weight of those expectations is not quite as heavy halfway around the world. The roster is loaded with stars in Europe, who should be comfortable invading Russia. It may not be title or bust, but Brazil is on the short list of teams who should be able to reach a Final.

SWITZERLAND

Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 10
Best Finishes: Quarterfinals in 1934, 1938, 1954
FIFA World Rank: 6

(Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

The Swiss are ranked 6th in the FIFA rankings: paper tiger or legitimate contender? They rolled through qualification, getting 9 wins in 10 opportunities, but losing out to Portugal (who also went 9-0-1 but had a better goal difference) before beating Northern Ireland in the playoff. This marks the 4th straight World Cup Finals appearance for Switzerland, but they have yet to break through and win a game in the knockout rounds.
They hold the distinction of having two “X-factors”: Xherdan (Shaqiri) and (Granit) Xhaka. They are a well-organized defensive team but will need those individual brilliant moments from their stars to go deeper than they’ve gone as a nation since 1954.
COSTA RICA

Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 5
Best Finish: Quarterfinals in 2014
FIFA World Rank: 25

Costa Rica were one of the darlings of 2014, coming out of a very tough Group of Death by advancing instead of England or Italy. Can lightning strike twice? They will have a largely veteran core that were part of the 2014 run, led by goalkeeper Keylor Navas and striker and team captain Bryan Ruiz.

 

SERBIA

Previous World Cup Finals Appearances: 12 including appearances as Yugoslavia (3 since 1998 as Serbia)
Best Finishes:
 Semifinalists in 1930 and 1962 as Yugoslavia, Round of 16 in 1998 as Serbia
FIFA World Rank: 35

(Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Serbia emerged from a balanced and competitive qualifying group, finishing just ahead of Ireland, Wales, and Austria. A 1-0 win at Dublin in September of last year proved decisive in deciding the group. The Serbs are led by captain Alexsander Kolarov and by the midfield group, that includes Nemanja Matic of Manchester United along with Filip Kostic.

Serbia failed to qualify in 2014 and went a combined 1-0-5 in the group stage in 2006 and 2010. The Serbs, and before them the Yugoslav teams that were often cited as the Brazil of Europe, often have sufficient talent; it’s bringing the team collective together successfully that will be the key to advancement in this group.

 

MATCH SCHEDULE

June 17: Costa Rica vs. Serbia, (Samara), 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT

June 17: Brazil vs. Switzerland (Rostov-on-Don), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

June 22: Brazil vs. Costa Rica (St. Petersburg), 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT

June 22: Serbia vs. Switzerland (Kaliningrad), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

June 27: Brazil vs. Serbia (Moscow), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

June 27: Costa Rica vs. Switzerland (Nizhny Novgorod), 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT

 

THE ODDS

ALL ODDS TO WIN GROUP VIA ODDSCHECKER (PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO ADVANCE IN PARENTHESES)

BRAZIL 4/11 (90%)

SWITZERLAND 15/2 (48%)

SERBIA 8/1 (44%)

COSTA RICA 22/1 (18%)

 

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