Road to Russia: World Cup 2018 – Group E Preview
As the days until the 2018 World Cup tick down and the excitement builds across the globe, the official squads have been selected and announced.
Group E is another that looks tasty on paper. Brazil, irresistible in qualifying, will surely go through. They might do much more; after the humiliation of 2014 when they hosted the competition and famously lost to Germany 7-1, Brazil will have something to prove, and are being tipped by many as one of the teams likely to go all the way.
Joining Brazil are Costa Rica, Switzerland and Serbia. All of those teams are difficult to beat on their day, while Costa Rica were one of the surprise packages of the last World Cup, when they emerged as winners from the group of death containing England, Italy and Uruguay.
The Swiss can count themselves hard done by to have had to go through the play-offs to make it to Russia. In ten games, Switzerland won nine and lost just once to Portugal, beating the Portuguese in the reverse fixture. That was only enough to earn second place on goal difference however.
Switzerland are an organised team and have been a feature of tournaments, having made it through to last 16 of the last EUROs, where it took a penalty shootout for Poland to see them off.
They’ve never really gone far in a tournament though and this is perhaps the best squad the Swiss have had for some time. Coach Vladimir Petkovic has been in the role for three years and has his team well organised and difficult to beat. The expectation is at least the last 16 but that is no easy task, especially as the Swiss must begin the campaign with a match against Brazil.
Switzerland have a number of high profile and capable players. Despite a poor domestic season, Xherdan Shaqiri is the creative focal point of the team, while his Premier League counterpart, Granit Xhaka, anchors the midfield.
Elsewhere, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodríguez are excellent fullbacks and mean the Swiss are dangerous from either flank. The team’s weakness is perhaps up front, where the responsibility for goals will fall with Haris Seferović.
After a number of disappointments at international level, Brazil seem to be well and truly back, with a team that is living up to the potential of the individual talents of each player. That turnaround has been made under Coach Tite, who has turned Brazil back into the flair team everyone knows and loves.
Brazil were the first team to qualify for the World Cup and have put their stamp down on the competition already with a fantastic record in the tough South American qualifying round. Topping that table with ease, they beat rivals Argentina 3-0 along the way.
Brazil should have few problems in this group and the real task will begin later in the tournament. The famous collapse against Germany in the semi-final in 2014 may be brought back to the fore and it will be interesting to see how the players and managers cope.
Brazil may not have the depth of Spain or Germany, but their first team is packed with world class talent.
Neymar is their most famous and perhaps talented player. His skill and talent is beyond question, but there are those who believe the player could be less selfish. Nevertheless, he is capable of turning a game on its head and will be one of the star men. There are questions over his fitness however, as he is still finding his way back to full fitness after surgery on a foot injury. The striker has said that this is a challenge and it’s far from a certainty that he will be at his best.
Neymar would of course be a huge loss, but Brazil have enough talent in reserve to cover. Playing up-front alongside Neymar will be Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus. The striker is young but has proven his talent at his club already this season.
Ex-Liverpool man Philippe Coutinho provides the creativity from midfield, while Casemiro and Paulinho cover the defence. Marcelo and Dani Alves play attacking wing-back roles which many defences will find overwhelming.
Costa Rica earned fans across the globe in the last World Cup, where they played some fantastic football to not only top the tournament’s group of death featuring England, Italy and Uruguay, but to make it to the quarter-finals, where they were beaten on penalties by Holland.
Since then, a new coach has taken over in Óscar Ramírez, but the good fortunes seem to have continued, as Costa Rica qualified with two games left to play. They have however lost two recent friendlies against Spain and Hungary.
Replicating the success of the last World Cup certainly will not be easy. Just emerging from this group will be a challenge, but Costa Rica definitely have enough to do so. Costa Rica start their campaign with a match against Serbia on Sunday 17 June.
Bryan Ruiz is an experienced player and has been a feature of the Costa Rica attack, but he is now 32. He’s joined by former Arsenal man Joel Campbell in attack. Campbell has been great for his country, but having suffered numerous injuries this season, he may not be as sharp as usual.
Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas is perhaps the most high-profile player in the team and will have to be at his best to help his team through a tricky group.
Serbia topped a group containing the Republic of Ireland and Wales to make it straight through to the finals in Russia, scoring twenty goals in the process.
Despite that success, coach Slavoljub Muslin was replaced with Mladen Krstajic, who is in charge temporarily. That could upset things somewhat, but Kratajic’s methods have worked so far.
Despite scoring that many goals in qualifying, Serbia’s strength undoubtedly is more as a defensive unit. But they will need goals to get out of this group and they will probably be looking towards Aleksandar Mitrovic to score them.
As we just mentioned, Serbia are a strong defensive side. Much of that is due to the presence of Nemanja Matic in defensive midfield. The Manchester United man is widely recognised as one of the best in that position and is key to the way Serbia play.
Either side of the defence is Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksander Kolarov. The two are both ageing and perhaps past their best, but still useful, especially from a defensive standpoint.
Serbia are mostly an ageing side, but bucking that trend is Milinkovic-Savic. The midfielder was brought straight into the team by new coach Krstajic and has looked excellent. The Lazio midfielder is tipped for great things and this is the perfect stage for him to fulfill that.
Which teams will qualify?
It would be brave to bet against Brazil in this group, probably even stupid. Brazil are sure to take one of the two qualifying places on offer, leaving the three other teams fighting for that second spot.
The bookies have Switzerland as slight favourites ahead of Serbia, while Costa Rica are around 7/2 to qualify. It’s tough to call, but the Swiss usually get the job done and if they can avoid a heavy defeat in the first match against Brazil, we think they’ll find a way through.
You can get Switzerland to qualify at around 1/1.