Group E should make for some thrilling soccer as there isn’t a truly weakened side within the entire group. Brazil enters as one of the decisive tournament favorites, and they just so happen to be surrounded by three pretty quality sides. No folks, unlike some other groups we’ve focused on – there aren’t any downright weaklings among this quartet. The games will be competitive, skilled, and fast-paced.
The Selecao of Brazil will be up against Serbia, Costa Rica, and Switzerland – and it tells you something when many pundits are predicting the world’s sixth ranked team, the Swiss – to finish last in this group. Yes, FIFA rankings are flawed – but the battle for advancement will be fierce. This will be hotly contested soccer from this group and should provide a ton of excitement for both fans and supporters. We’ve passed the mid-way point with these group previews and team capsules, and the tournament is just days away. Please read on below for team predictions and some potential group standings.
Odds posted are ‘To Win Group’
After years of failure and head-scratching tactics, Brazil is back and ready to roar on the world stage. The Selecao cruised through South American qualifying, which is no easy feat. They were scoring goals again, something that wasn’t a big focus under previous managers – and their overall cohesion was a pleasure to watch. They have the right blend of patient, yet lethal – and there is a reason why they are the current favorites to hoist the trophy in Russia. Look for the Brazilians to be very attack-oriented, and their new manager Tite has implemented an imaginiative 4-1-4-1 system that can accentuate the sheer talent of this lineup.
Look for Neymar, Gabriel Jesus up top, and Philippe Countinho to spearhead the attack, while Fernandinho, Casemiro, and Paulinho sit just behind to hold the midfield, win balls, and provide service up front.
We haven’t even mentioned Chelsea’s main midfield star Willian who could and likely should play a key role in Russia. This team is stacked, and Tite will have a tough job finding time for all of his prominent stars.
One area where this team could have a hole may just be at the right back position. Dani Alves of PSG was injured before the tournament, and his absence will likely force Danilo into the fold. Danilo is still talented but is relatively unproven on the international stage. How he fits in will be worth watching in the Selecao’s first fixture against Switzerland.
Brazil’s last World Cup on home soil didn’t go as planned. The Germans routed them, and that team lacked the creative flair going forward that makes Brazilian soccer so feared. Now with Tite on the touchline, the lethal attack is back, and nobody on the world stage is safe. Neymar is healthy, and unlike in 2014 – he’s surrounded by a bevy of talented playmakers and finishers that make defending this group seem nearly impossible.
The 2018 version of Brazil has nicely blended their skill and creativity in attack with defensive organization and solidity. Unlike other star-studded teams in Russia, Tite has a solid idea of how he wants his team to play, and the formation and roles are already carved out. They breezed through South American qualifying for a reason, and they’re a lock to win Group E, and they are also my early pick to win the 2018 World Cup.
Though many might say the Serbians are a boring but effective team – it all comes down to a matter of preference. They won’t blow you away with skill, speed, and creativity the way Brazil or Spain might – but this is an effective squad and one that should be considered among a tier of outside contenders at Russia 2018. I really like the Serbians entering this tournament, mainly because of their starting eleven and talented midfield.
Nemanja Matic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic are both big and rugged players that will star in the middle of the pitch for Serbia. They’ll win plenty of balls and provide excellent service going forward. Milinkovic-Savic has been a stud in Serie A this past season, and has been rumoured with a move to Manchester United following the World Cup. Oddly he wasn’t included in the qualifying for Serbia, but with new manager Mladen Krstajic at the helm – he’s made the tall midfielder a staple in the starting lineup.
At the top, look for Dusan Tadic and Aleks Mitrovic to continue their fine form. That duo can score, and will need to in a competitive Group E. Serbia also has some big names at the back in Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov. They’re solid all around and though they don’t have much depth to come off of the bench – they’re better than they’ve been getting credit for.
One area that has some iffy on Serbia’s chances in Russia is the inexperience of their new manager Krstajic. He has recently replaced the old coach, Slavo Muslin – and Krstajic has precisely zero lead managerial experience. He’s also reportedly continually been tinkering with a midfield system days before kick-off, and that could upset chemistry for an otherwise talented team.
Serbia has a ton of talent and despite a history of some failures on the international stage in years past, this new wave of players has enough to do some real damage in Russia. They have the ability to control games with their dominating midfield, and talent going forward. While they are a tier below Brazil, it should be considered a failure if they don’t progress in this group.
Costa Rica (+2800)
It is truly amazing to see how far the Costa Ricans have come in recent years. We often talk of a ‘golden generation’ for certain footballing nations, and the CONCACAF side are currently in the midst of theirs right now. They possess some really talented players, and as many in the U.S.A. can attest to – this side is not one to be taken lightly. Four years ago at the 2014 World Cup, this similarly-built squad topped a group featuring England, Italy, and Uruguay. Unfortunately they’ve drawn another tough draw, but they will not be intimidated to play their high-octane style in Russia.
For starters, the squad is very familiar with one another and many have the shared experience from that 2014 World Cup run. As many as nine players who started vs. the Netherlands in 2014 could start for Costa Rica for their first match in Russia. That said, we all know Los Ticos were fortunate to get as far as they did back in Brazil, and their qualifying route also had some promising bounces. Overall, they have some good players in Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, and of course the talented Keylor Navas in goal – but they still really lack attacking talent and a true game-breaker. They are now a much older team, and I’m not sure the legs are there anymore to play their traditional counter-attacking style.
Look for Los Ticos to employ five defenders at the back, and have a team-focused approach at stifling the talent of Group E. When they do get the ball, they push forward rapidly and try to catch opposing teams napping. It worked in 2014, but I’m not certain they will have much success against Brazil, Serbia, and Switzerland. I can’t foresee much success for them in Russia 2018.
As mentioned above, the Swiss enter Russia 2018 as the sixth-best team in the world according to the flawed metrics of the FIFA World Rankings. Still though, it says something when a team that scores that highly can enter as the most likely fourth-place finisher from a supremely competitive Group E. The Swiss have some exciting players, but too few of them to contend meaningfully among this foursome.
Perhaps they’d have a shot at advancing in another group, but going against these three teams will be tough – and out of all the squads in the tournament, facing off against Brazil is an unenviable mission. Surely Brazil is poised to show the world what their new brand of football looks like, and the Swiss might just need to be sacrificial lambs in that opening clash. What could a blowout loss do to Swiss morale and confidence going forward? Who knows – but this isn’t a team well-equipped to progress.
Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are the two key cogs up front for the Swiss, and much of the attacking creativity will need to come from this pair. They also have some nice young pieces that could really inject some much-needed energy and attacking flair into this otherwise dull side. Whether or not manager Vlad Petkovic allows them to feature however, is an entirely different question.
Shaqiri is likely the best player on Switzerland, but he can also be a weakness at times. He is talented, but tends to dominate the ball and can be overly reliant on his own skills at time. That is mostly because there isn’t much in front of Shaqiri going forward. Up top, it is expected that the Swiss will start with the uninspiring Haris Serferovic. He hasn’t scored a goal for his club Benfica since October and enters in awful form. A proper striker would definitely add another element to the side, but it just hasn’t materialized.
They have great fullbacks in Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichtsteiner who offer both incredible pace and attacking quality. They’re also set in the middle of the park with Xhaka and Shaqiri, but that’s pretty much it.
Petkovic should give young 20-year old Breel Embolo a shot to feature up top because Seferovic is not an ideal option. The Swiss will be defensively compact, mostly mistake-free, and follow a solid team concept – but in a tough Group E, their lack of finishing quality might be their downfall.