World Cup Preview: Group E
World Cup fever is in full swing and who other than the Brazilians can bring the excitement of the tournament as they feature alongside Costa Rica, Switzerland and Serbia in Group E. David Ronney previews.
Brazil – Life beyond the nightmare
His heart is pumping. Emotions flow as he counts, one, two… seven. He gasps for air, waking from the nightmare in a cold sweat. As Marcelo’s mind casts itself back to the night on the eighth of July, 2014. The infamous capitulation of a nation in a sheer matter of minutes. The Real Madrid left-back is one of the last remaining survivors from the side that started against those ruthless Germans.
Four years on and Brazil are almost unrecognisable in comparison to the squad that featured in their homeland to that flying to Russia. For instance, the striking option of Fred being exchanged for that of Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino are welcome introductions upfront. In midfield, despite featuring in the 2014 World Cup, Paulinho might as well be a new player since having a resurgence in his career in recent years. Real Madrid’s Casemiro has cemented himself as one of the world’s best midfielders since his move to Los Blancos in 2015. Coutinho is in the form of his life and the lack of Champions League action in 2018 hasn’t seemed to affect that.
I could list off each and every member in this South American side and praise them all on their incredible ability but of course all eyes again are on Neymar this year. The PSG winger made his first appearance in 98 days since injury and scored in a 2-0 win over Croatia earlier this month. The 26-year-old then did the same in their following match against Austria moving his ranking up to third of Brazil’s all-time top goalscorers, the ranked position shared with that of Romario.
The Brazilian has more or less put to bed any concerns regarding his ability since his return from injury. If he can replicate his performances from these friendlies in Russia then I think we’ll all be in for a treat.
Switzerland – Shaqiri to regain form?
The Swiss enjoyed an unbeaten run in their warm-up friendlies leading to the World Cup, which included a 1-1 draw with Spain and a 6-0 win over Panama. Confidence will be blooming for most leading into the tournament but potentially not for winger, Xherdan Shaqiri. At club level, the Switzerland international was involved in the Stoke City squad that suffered a horrendous season that led to relegation from the Premier League.
In Shaqiri’s case it hasn’t exactly been a lack of trying, the 26-year-old was involved in 15 goals last season (8 goals, 7 assists) which is more than double in comparison to the previous season he had with the English club. For one reason or another, things haven’t panned out this season for the Stoke forward and it would be understandable if this mindset has carried with him into the Swiss camp. We’ve all seen Shaqiri’s ability over the years, you only have to cast your mind back two years to remember his spectacular volley against Poland in the Euros.
Personally, I highly doubt we’ll see Shaqiri in a Stoke City strip next season so his time in Russia will be a better opportunity than any to showcase his skills to the bidding table.
Costa Rica – Can they do it again?
One of the highlights of the last tournament, Costa Rica finished top of their group that included Uruguay, Italy and England. Then, they went onto to make the quarter-finals, losing out to the Netherlands on penalties. Now, they’re back again and after the success of four years ago, they’ll believe they can go the distance once again. It’s the nation’s fifth time competing in the finals and they’ll be facing a familiar foe, Brazil. The two nations have met in the World Cup twice before with Brazil coming out victorious on both occasions. Costa Rica will be hoping that third time’s the charm when they meet in Group E.
With regards to the squad, as much as he has been criticised for his errors in recent years, Keylor Navas has held the Real Madrid goal for the past three seasons in which they have won three consecutive Champions Leagues. He’ll of course prove just as important for his nation during their time in the tournament.
Their captain, Bryan Ruiz will have his focus on helping his side prepare for their three tough opponents in the coming weeks. However, it’s possible that his mind could cast over to the situation panning out with his side at club level, Sporting Lisbon as player after player are having their contracts terminated following an incident with players and supporters at the training ground. It’s important that Ruiz doesn’t allow this situation to affect his preparations with his nation leading into their opening match against Serbia.
Serbia – Experience in the field
If you haven’t seen it yet, you have to look up Branislav Ivanovic’s strike in Serbia’s recent 5-1 win over Bolivia, it’s complete and utter filth. And it wouldn’t surprise me if squad members in their group took a large gulp when they saw it for themselves.
This Serbia side boasts impressive and experienced talent playing at the highest level. Nemanja Matić, Aleksandar Mitrović and Dušan Tadić are to name a few. Even one of their holding midfielders, Luka Milivojevic has had a knack of scoring goals at club level this season, 10 to be exact. This squad has experience across the park, while I doubt that their opponents will underestimate them, fans shouldn’t either.
When it comes to their captain, Aleksandar Kolarov, the defender has enjoyed an impressive season at club level with Roma as he played a key part in their run into the semi-finals of the Champions League. All these components put together make for a strong Serbia side and with a lot of the squad entering the twilight years of their careers, I expect this tournament to be the last a lot of them play together.
1st Brazil 9pt
2nd Serbia 6pt
3rd Switzerland 1pt
4th Costa Rica 1pt