Philly Football Daily will be covering the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia in its entirety, this summer. In the lead-up to kickoff in Moscow, PFD will be releasing previews of all eight groups.
Editor’s Note: Philly Football Daily contributor Diego Sanchez is the author of this Group Preview.
For many, the Brazilians are considered one of the favorites to win the tournament. Brazil has an overwhelming amount of quality players, and picking a squad was always going to be very difficult for manager Tite.
A few weeks ago, Brazil announced its final, 23-man team for the tournament, and it came as little surprise that they are bringing the entire cavalry to Russia.
Brazil’s attack, with the likes of global icon Neymar, recent Premier League champion Gabriel Jesus, as well as Europe’s Brazilian stars Phillipe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Willian, poses an undeniable threat to any defense that dares to stand in front.
Filled with pace, flair and skill, it will be extremely difficult to face these players, and on the biggest stage, with the entire world watching, it will be even more nerve-wrecking for even the most experienced defenders out there.
In the midfield, Tite was, in my opinion, right to select a balanced group of players.
Filled with several box-to-box midfielders like Paulinho, Fred and Renato Augusto, all of whom will be backed up by more defensive-minded players like Casemiro and Fernandinho, Brazil will likely control the pace of the game. Brazil also possesses the grit and players needed to make important tackles and challenges in their defensive third.
Make no mistake, however, as both Casemiro and Fernandinho are players who are more than capable of scoring from distance, if given even just an inch of space. They have proven that with their respected clubs, Real Madrid (Casemiro) and Manchester City (Fernandinho).
In the back, it will be a challenge for Tite to decide who will play in the center of the defense, as ex-captain Thiago Silva faces some considerable competition from both his fellow Parisian teammate and very promising talent Marquinhos, as well as Inter Milan giant Miranda.
And, with Chelsea defender David Luiz left out of the squad, it will be interesting to watch who Tite will pair in the back.
In my opinion, Brazil could elect to go back to their 1997 style of play, with three central defenders, utilizing Marcelo and Danilo as the new Cafu and Roberto Carlos partnership.
Marcelo is a player whom I think will have a huge impact this tournament, as his recent success with Real Madrid will certainly motivate him to carry it over, and hopefully lift a trophy for the Joga Bonito side, who so desperately wants to climb back to the top. Marcelo can provide a lot of width and dangerous services in the box, which will undoubtedly benefit natural goal scorers like Jesus and Firmino.
In the way back, it will be a heavy-weight battle between AS Roma keeper Allison and Manchester City shot-stopper Ederson. Both have had impressive seasons, but it will be up to managerial preference, their performances in training sessions and final friendlies before the tournament begins.
Given the depth and quality of the squad, I don’t have a single doubt that Brazil will fail to come out on top and qualify first in Group E.
In recent years, Switzerland has been fighting to emerge as one of the up and coming European powers, as the Swiss are filled with a load of young talent in nearly every part of the park.
Led by Arsenal man Granit Xhaka, and Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland will certainly look to make another push at the latest installment of the FIFA World Cup.
Eliminated by Belgium last time around, in Brazil, the Swiss were dealt a heart-breaker, but this time, the team looks even stronger than the tournament before. If Switzerland’s players can maintain the solid form they have been displaying for their respected clubs, I can see Switzerland qualifying for the Knockout Rounds.
However, such a feat will depend on their results against Group E counterparts Serbia and Costa Rica, as the points available from those matches could prove to be crucial. After all, everyone has to face Brazil.
In my opinion, Breel Embolo and Haris Seferović will both prove themselves to be pivotal in the success of the Swiss. Embolo and Seferović both combine for speed and strength, which will be key against sides like Costa Rica and Serbia, both of whom possessing forceful defenders and midfielders.
Switzerland will depend on Xhaka’s distribution, Shaqiri’s flair, Embolo’s pace and Seferović’s killer instinct, as well as players in the team with previous World Cup experience.
While I can see Switzerland making it out of Group E, the Swiss are quite vulnerable in the back, as they lack depth. Switzerland is bringing with them to Russia almost the same group of players from previous competitions.
AC Milan man Ricardo Rodriguez is back for another World Cup, and he will certainly be a player to keep an eye on for both corners and free kicks. Rodriguez is precise and clinical with his left foot, which can cause some serious damage, and could end up defining a close game from a spot kick.
That said, with the considerable strength that the Serbian team is bringing with them to Russia this Summer, I don’t believe the Swiss will be able to secure a second place finish in Group E.
Serbia: a team that terrifies their opponents with both their size and strength.
Led by arguably Manchester United’s most consistent player in their recent campaign, Nemanja Matic, the Serbian National Team had an impressive qualifying campaign, winning six out of 10 games, and dropping just one. Serbia finished at the top of its qualifying group, advancing to Russia 2018 in convincing fashion.
In the heart of the Serbian midfield stands the impenetrable duo of Matic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who can hold off any top forward. Serbia’s defense will prove to be staunch adversaries to Costa Rica and Switzerland’s respective attacks. Brazil, with the legs of Neymar and Co, might prove to be the one exception.
Embolo and Shaqiri will be relied on heavily by the Swiss, for their pace, but it will be tough to outsmart Matic and Savic in the center. Both Matic and Savic are composed on the ball, hardly ever give it away, and are some of the toughest tacklers in world football. It will be up to Neymar, Jesus and Coutinho to produce some outstanding offensive displays to break down those two.
Like I said before, it is going to take a lot more than just sheer pace and skill to overcome the two towers in the middle of the park for Serbia, as their composure and brains aren’t easily shaken down.
On the offensive side, however, the Serbs lack depth.
Serbia has relied heavily on Southampton star Dušan Tadić and Fulham man Aleksandar Mitrović to produce most of their goals. However, it is safe to say that Serbia will still be a threat going forward, but I doubt it will be enough to surpass Brazil’s defense.
Prediction: I believe that Serbia will make it out of Group E as the second-place team.
Los Ticos! Costa Rica is a team that relies greatly on their defensive shape and discipline.
Costa Rica has, yet again, finished second in the CONCACAF Hexagonal and earned another trip to the World Cup.
Led by reliable keeper Keylor Navas of Real Madrid, who has now won three Champions League trophies in a row, and a staunch, five-man defense the Ticos utilize so well, scoring on this team will prove to be a very difficult task.
Costa Rica, however, seems to be in the same boat as Serbia, who also defend really well, and rely too heavily on their main attacker to produce the goals.
Captain Bryan Ruiz will feature in another World Cup, and it is a mistake to doubt his goal scoring ability, as well as the passion he brings out of his teammates to perform at their very best.
But, like I said, this Costa Rican team relies too heavily on their captain for to score the goals.
Costa Rica is a team that will fight for every single ball, to the death, and the Ticos make every game against them a difficult one for 90 minutes, one that can even get pretty ugly at times.
I believe Costa Rica will and can make a push for second place, but it will be up to how they perform in the first game against Serbia, who I think is another strong contender in Group E to qualify for the Knockout Rounds.
In football, and especially the World Cup, the first game is the most important, because it sets the tempo and your mentality for the rest of the tournament. Not to mention, losing the first game decreases a team’s chances of qualifying by a whopping 50%.
In my opinion, the fate of the teams in Group E will be up to their respective performances in the opening game, as no one wants to fall behind in a group with a heavy favorite, and three very even-matched sides.
Group E, in my opinion, is one of the toughest groups in this World Cup, and it is going to be very exciting to watch what unfolds.
Opening Matches: Previews
Brazil vs Switzerland
I think the opening match for the five-time World Champions might actually be their easiest one of the tournament.
Switzerland has a pretty vulnerable defense, and against the best attacking front of the tournament, I think it is going to be hard for them to cope with Neymar, Jesus and Coutinho. Not to mention, Firmino and Willian will both be coming off the bench.
Brazil has five high-profile attackers at their disposal, who can each cause trouble to even the best backline in the world.
Jesus and Firmino both scored a bevy of goals in the Premier League, and are coming into this year’s World Cup (their first) eager and hungry to perform and put on a show.
On the other hand, Neymar, who picked up an injury in the Quarter-Finals of World Cup 2014 that sidelined him for the 7-1 Semi Final loss against Germany, will also be trying to put on a show for the Brazilian fans, who have been waiting impatiently for this event to begin again.
Neymar’s injury last time out has to be on the Brazilian’s mind, and I think it will only motivate him to perform at the highest level, a level he was playing at before his injury, during the last World Cup.
Brazil’s modern-day Pele spent a lot of time on the injury list this season, however, Neymar still managed 29 goals and notched 16 assists for his club Paris St. Germain, in just 31 appearances. Not to mention, Neymar scored two Golazos against Croatia, in the previous friendly at Anfield, and Austria respectively, where he dropped the last defender to the ground.
Neymar is coming out of the gate “red hot,” and I will be surprised if he doesn’t score a goal in this first game.
Switzerland will have to defend smart, if the Swiss want to have a chance to keep it tight, and maybe notch up a result, but I see it nearly impossible to stop an attack like Brazil’s at this World Cup.
Switzerland will most likely sit back and have Granit Xhaka and Valon Behrami sit in the middle of the park, in an attempt to to cut off the passing lanes to Coutinho and Neymar.
New Arsenal signing Stephan Lichsteiner and Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez and going to have to play very narrow and compact, in order to prevent Neymar and Coutinho from cutting inside to combine with Jesus and Paulinho. However, the disadvantage of playing narrowly is giving Marcelo the freedom to sprint up the field and occupy the dead space.
It is going to be very tricky for coach Vladimir Petkovich, as his tactics are going to have to be nearly spot-on defensively, if the Swiss are to stop Neymar and his men, or at least keep them from scoring 4 or 5.
On the offensive side, I don’t believe Switzerland will maintain much of the ball, and I believe fans will bare witness to constant waves of attack from Brazil, followed by attempts to counter by the Swiss.
Xhaka and Behrami are going to have to control the pace of the game, if they want to have any chance of not falling on Brazil’s style of Joga Bonito football. But, with the legs of Casemiro, Fernandinho and Paulinho, I see that situation very unrealistic for the Swiss.
If Switzerland does resort to playing on the counter, the Swiss are going to rely heavily on Embolo and Shaqiri to launch the team on a break, and hopefully link up with Seferović for a goal.
Set Pieces will also be vital for the Swiss, as they have the smooth left foot of Rodriguez to whip in corners and free kicks anywhere near the box.
It’ll be an exciting opening game for the Swiss, but I don’t give them much of a chance in this one. I see Brazil winning comfortably, 3-0.
Serbia vs Costa Rica
Serbia, who failed to qualify for Brazil 2014 and reach the Knockout Rounds of the World Cup in South Africa and Germany, are back on the biggest stage in world football.
And, with more young talent emerging in the side, Serbia finished first in their qualifying group for the first time since 1998, winning 10 matches and drawing its remaining six.
Serbia looks like a solid opposition for this upcoming World Cup. Fate, their fate, however, will largely be decided on their opening match.
However, on the same token, Costa Rica is also coming off an impressive qualifying campaign, and the reigning Quarter Finalists will not stand down to any team, including Serbia.
Both teams have very strong defensive players, which I believe will make it a battle at all areas of the field, and the result will ultimately depend on who can control and dictate the midfield.
Serbia has the advantage in the middle, as the Serbs possess two, world class defensive midfielders in Savic and Matic, who can defend, track and stalk almost anyone in the world.
For Costa Rica, it will be up to Bryan Ruiz — who will likely play in the hole behind the striker — to maneuver around the two giants in front of him, and create space for his teammates to join the link-up play that the Ticos are so proficient at in the final third.
Costa Rica does have the advantage in goal, as their star keeper Keylor Navas has enjoyed great success at the club level. Scouted and signed by Real Madrid after the last World Cup, it is evident that Navas is a player who is not afraid of the big stage.
At this World Cup, Navas is going to have to be at his very best, if the Ticos are to make a run deep into the competition.
Costa Rica’s 5-3-2 system is one that will cause a lot of problems for Serbia (and most teams), as the Ticos are compact and pressure often, forcing their opponents into tight spaces and mistakes.
Fortunately for Serbia, Matic and Savic thrive in tight spaces, and both players have the ability to control the tempo and keep possession for their side, which Serbia will rely on heavily.
In the attack, it will be Dušan Tadić, Aleksandar Mitrović and Adem Ljajić who will line up in the Serb’s 4-2-3-1 system. All three players are good at combining, and they possess a lot of talent and skill on the ball, too, which will be pivotal against Costa Rica’s relentless press.
I believe this will be a very even game, a “dog fight,” if you will. It’ll be up to the players of both teams, to dig deep and grind out a result, and I believe the winner of this game will ultimately finish second in the group and qualify for the Knockout Rounds.
That said, I just don’t see it possible for either of these teams to overcome the talent of Brazil. If I were to make predictions, I believe this game will either end in a draw, or Serbia will edge the Ticos, 2-1.