Saturday, 26 May 2018

World Cup Preview - Group E

Group E

Brazil (2)
Switzerland (6)
Costa Rica (25)
Serbia (35)

Brazil - The favourites for the World Cup with the bookmakers, Brazil come in on the back of an excellent qualifying campaign in which they lost only one game, away at Chile. The five time champions last won the tournament in 2002, when Ronaldo inspired them to a win over Germany in the final. Four years ago it was Germany who embarrassed Brazil in the semi final, with that 7-1 defeat being the worst in their history. Redemption is on the mind of the nation, and they have a squad capable of achieving that.
The goalkeeping position had long been an issue for Brazil, since Taffarel retired they have struggled to replace him, but now there are two keepers more than capable of starting. Ederson has been outstanding for Man City this season, he is likely to be on the bench behind Roma stopper Alisson. Alisson is a great shot stopper, and a huge presence in goals. He doesn't sweep or use his feet as well as Ederson, but he is as good at saving shots as anyone.
Defensively, the PSG duo of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva are both solid defenders with pace, and that gives license for Marcelo and Danilo to push on from fullback to help the attack. Fred, Fernandinho and Casemiro are all options in the sitting midfield role, while they have a huge amount of talent and pace in the forward five positions.
Roberto Firmino has been outstanding for Liverpool as the central striker, and he will be battling Gabriel Jesus for a starting place. Meanwhile Douglas Costa, Coutinho, Willian, Paulinho and the second Shakhtar player in the squad, Taison can all provide pace, goals, quality on the ball and directness to the attack.
This squad is far stronger than the one that made it to the semi finals four years ago. They conceded only 11 goals in 18 qualifying games, scoring 41, with 13 different players getting on the scoresheet. Goals can come from anywhere on the pitch, and no doubt this year they are favourites and are out to prove they are the best in the world.

Star Man - It is a massive relief I'm sure for manager Tite to see Neymar back training after his dreaded metatarsal injury. He is the star for Brazil in a team of world class players. His dribbling skills are as good as anyone, but also he is a leader for the country. His back injury four years ago was crucial in their demise when he had to sit out the Germany game. He has 53 goals in 83 caps, well on his way to beating the 77 goal record Pele has for Brazil. Lets hope he is fit for Russia, because he could light up the World Cup and take Brazil to title number six.

Switzerland - They might be the 6th ranked team in the world, but Switzerland would still be deemed a dark horse as they prepare for Russia. They were unlucky not to qualify automatically, given they lost their only points of the group stage with a defeat on the final day in Portugal. They had to play Northern Ireland in the playoffs, and a dubious penalty in the first leg in Belfast proved crucial, as it was the only goal scored over two legs.
Since the World Cup expanded from 16 teams in 1982 the Swiss have never made it past the last 16, but recently the team has found a decent formula under coach Vladimir Petkovic. With two sitting midfielders protecting the defense, they only conceded seven goals in 12 qualifying games, thanks also to in form goalkeeper Yann Sommer. The Monchengladbach stopper is reportedly being tracked by Manchester City as back up for Ederson after a fine season.
Captain Stephan Lichsteiner is two caps away from 100, and the full back was still an important part of the Juventus title winning squad this season. On the opposite side, Ricardo Rodriguez has been seen as a top class left back for years now, and still only 25 years old. Defensively sound he also has a great left foot for crossing and set pieces.
Although Granit Xhaka has been seen as a poor signing for Arsenal, he plays an important role linking defense and attack alongside a 21 year old future star, Denis Zakaria. The tall holding midfielder has been a regular in the Bundesliga this season at Monchengladbach, and he looks like a real talented central midfielder.
Upfront is an area that Switzerland don't lack numbers, but do lack a real goalscorer. In qualifying, 14 different players scored goals, with Haris Seferovic the top marksman with four. He has 11 goals for his country but wasn't a regular starter for Benfica this term, managing just four league goals. When looking at the other four strikers who are potential starters, Derdiyok, Mehmedi, Drmic and Embolo, none have been regulars for their teams this season. It is perhaps why Swiss Super league top scorer, Albia Ajeti, has been called up to the preliminary squad. He could be in line for his first cap after 17 goals this season.
Brazil are obviously group favourites, but Switzerland are well organised, and could be tough to beat in the first group game.

Star Man - Of all the Stoke players this season perhaps only Xherdan Shaqiri can hold his head up at the end of it. He always looked their most dangerous player and most likely scorer and is the one Swiss player with real quality in the final third. He has 20 goals for his country from 68 caps, and he is capable of being a game winner all by himself. Sometimes he can be guilty of holding on to the ball too long, but it can be forgiven when he puts it in the top corner from 25 yards, as he seems to do more often than other players when he cuts in on that left foot.

Costa Rica - Four years ago Costa Rica surprised everyone by topping a group containing England, Italy and Uruguay. They then beat Greece on penalties in a forgettable encounter, before losing on penalties to The Netherlands. It was the first ever quarter final appearance at the World Cup and one that is unlikely to be emulated in Russia. With three automatic places up for grabs in the CONCACAF region, Costa Rica finished second behind Mexico to book their place for the 4th time out of the last five tournaments.
Goalkeeper Keylor Navas signed for Real Madrid after the last World Cup, and despite regular criticism he has been their number one ever since. An athletic goalkeeper, he is likely to be busy in the tournament and will be crucial to any success that Costa Rica will have.
Cristian Gamboa hasn't managed to break in to the Celtic team regularly, but himself and Bryan Oviedo provide good attacking options from wing back. They are both regulars for their country and will be expected to get forward and provide crosses. The squad is almost identical to the one that did so well in Brazil with the midfielders Bolanos, Borges and Tejeda, who formed a three in midfield still involved. Bolanos is 34 now so it is possible that Rodney Wallace or David Guzman, both based in Major League Soccer, could take his place in the starting lineup at least for one of the games. Former Fulham man, now with Sporting Lisbon, the 32 year old captain Bryan Ruiz is the link between midfield and attack. He is an extremely talented footballer and although he sometimes plays at a slower tempo than you would like, he has the ability to pick out a pass on his left foot, and also produce a bit of magic. He has 23 goals for his country, the top scorer in the current squad. He hasn't been a regular in Portugal this season so he will need to up his game to try and take Costa Rica beyond the groups again.

Star Man - The season before the last World Cup Joel Campbell burst on to the scene with some impressive performances for Olympiakos in the Champions League. He hasn't really kicked on since then, with Arsenal loaning him out every season it must be hard to find form. This year at Real Betis he hasn't played much but he seems to rise to the occasion of playing for his country and big tournaments. He is quick, has a good left foot and is very direct. If he can perform the way he did four years ago again, then his country has a chance of coming through the groups.

Serbia - Group D in qualification contained Ireland, Wales and Austria, but it was Serbia who came through it on top thanks mainly to some attacking football that saw them score 20 goals over the ten games. Top scorer in the group was on loan Fulham man Aleksander Mitrovic with six. Falling out of favour at Newcastle he has gone to Fulham and taken them to the brink of promotion, with the playoff final. Strong and aggressive, he has also shown an eye for goal with 12 since joining in February. He is a real threat from cross balls which can be useful for his country as one of the best crossers of a ball in world football, Aleksander Kolarov plays left back. They are likely to link up at some point in this tournament.
Still playing at 34 is Branislav Ivanovic. He has always been a strong defender and is a leader for his country as he was for many years at Chelsea. Now playing at Zenit he has played 38 games this season which shows his fitness is still great.
The big strength for Serbia is midfield however. They have a group of players all under 30 who have experience, but also quality. Nemanja Matic is a world class central midfielder, and alongside him, Luka Milivojevic has had an outstanding season at Crystal Palace. They form a strong base to allow more attacking players like Dusan Tadic, Filip Kostic, Adem Llajic to create opportunities for Mitrovic.
The future looks very exciting for Serbia as their squad contains many young players playing across the major leagues of Europe. Winners of the under 20 World Cup in 2015, they now look like they could be starting to show signs of being ready to advance in a World Cup for the first time since the break up of Yugoslavia.

Star Man - The star of that under 20 team that won the World Cup, and a player many are touting for a huge money move this summer, is Sergei Milinkovic-Savic. He has been a regular in the Lazio team for the last three seasons, and this year was the star man alongside Ciro Immobile. He is a classic all-round midfielder with the strength and height to hold off any opponent, but also the quick feet and passing ability to unlock defenses. He has been compared to Zidane and it is easy to see why. He is a goal threat with feet and head, and this tournament can be a chance for him to showcase his talents.

Predictions - Pre tournament favourites Brazil have been given a relatively tough group, but I expect them to progress without too many problems. It will depend on Neymar being fully fit whether they go all the way. Before reading up on the teams I would have thought Switzerland were slightly stronger, but having seen what Serbia have in their squad I think they will be too strong for the Swiss and could be a dark horse this year. Costa Rica performed miracles in Brazil, but I can't see them doing it again in Russia.

What to Bet on - Serbia are 11/8 to qualify, I like those odds.

World Klutz - Everybody remembers Rene Higuita for his scorpion kick against England but he was regularly messing about while playing goalkeeper. He was an entertainer that loved coming out from his box with the ball. Rewind to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and against Cameroon and a 38 year old (maybe 42) Roger Milla...

The goal made it 2-0 in extra time, effectively knocking Colombia out of the World Cup.
This wasn't his finest moment, but do take a few minutes to look at some of his other videos. A true character of the game and the likes of which we will never see again.

No comments:

Post a Comment