Soccer

Previews for all eight World Cup groups – Group E

Can anyone upset Brazil?

Welcome to What The Sports’ FIFA World Cup Previews! We are just four days away from the most-watched sporting event in the world, and will countdown to June 14’s opening match with a preview of each group per day.

Next up, we have Group E, otherwise known as Brazil and three other teams. Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica round out the group and all three are more than viable to advance to the Round of 16. Switzerland is quietly ranked sixth in the world, Costa Rica won a group consisting of England, Italy and Uruguay in 2014 and Serbia has some of the most exciting midfield talent there is.

Serbia

Returning to the World Cup after not qualifying for Brazil, the Eagles come to Russia as somewhat of an unknown commodity. The team has not been in a major international tournament since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and is the most inexperienced team in the entire group. Coach Mladen Krstajic has only managed six matches after replacing Slavoljub Muslin last fall.

Two of the most important players for this Serbian squad, Aleksandar Mitrović and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, are 23 years old, but are surrounded by veterans like Branislav Ivanović, Aleksandar Kolarov, Nemanja Matić and Dušan Tadić. Don’t expect this team to score many goals, but a stout back four could see Serbia through.

Who to watch

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic

Nemanja Matic would be the safe pick here, as the Manchester United midfielder has proven himself to be one of the best holding midfielders in the world, but Milinkovic-Savic has become one of the bright young talents of soccer. The Lazio midfielder has been valued by the club’s sporting director at $117 million, and reports are out that Real Madrid is willing to pay $200 million for his services.

He scored 12 goals and tallied four assists in Serie A this season, and will probably sit right behind striker Aleksandar Mitrović in the Serbian starting XI. For a side that doesn’t have many goals in it, look for most of the attacking soccer to go through Milinkovic-Savic, who saves equipment managers a lot of time and effort by just putting his first name on the back of his kit.

They win the group if…

Aleksandar Mitrović catches fire and their back four doesn’t play as old as it looks. Brazil’s attacking flair is going to be a handful for the Serbs, but even if their back line stays strong, the Eagles will need production from Mitrović, Milinkovic-Savic and even Dušan Tadić.

Most likely to be meme-d

Branislav Ivanovic

Premier League fans are more than familiar with the former Chelsea right back, who might be one of the most intimidating-looking dudes in all of soccer. Like seriously, anyone named Branislav can kick my ass any day of the week, regardless of their age or size. If my local church had a priest named Branislav, I would no longer go to mass out of fear that my ass would get kicked.

Costa Rica

Hello fellow CONCACAF member!

*holds back tears thinking about the Americans missing the World Cup, stabs another pin into my Bruce Arena voodoo doll*

Who to watch

Keylor Navas

The Real Madrid man has emerged as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, and had earned his move to the Bernabéu after leading Costa Rica to the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Navas was named to the UEFA Champions League team of the season for 2017-2018, and was the CONCACAF Player of the Year in 2017.

He is without a doubt the most well known player in this Costa Rican squad, and will have to be nothing less than great if Los Ticos want to advance out of Group E.

They win the group if…

They steal a point from Brazil and take care of business against Switzerland and Serbia, which is easier said than done. Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell will have to be creative in the midfield and forwards Marco Ureña and Johan Venegas will have to be clinical. With five in the back, Navas shouldn’t have to save 10 shots a game for this team to be successful, but he will have to be in top form, as per usual with the Real Madrid star.

Most likely to be meme-d

Joel Campbell

Maybe now that Arsene Wenger is out at Arsenal, Campbell will stop getting loaned out every year.

Switzerland

Qualifying for their fourth straight World Cup, the Swiss will look to advance out of the group stage in back-to-back competitions after finishing second behind France during the group stage in Brazil. There aren’t many names in this squad that will jump off the paper, but players like Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri can make things happen for Die Nati. The Swiss also boast one of the stronger fullback pairings in the tournament with Arsenal’s Stephan Lichtsteiner and 2014 Swiss Footballer of the Year Ricardo Rodriguez.

Who to watch

Granit Xhaka

Xhaka will sit in a defensive midfield position alongside Valon Behrami for the World Cup, but don’t disqualify him from moving around the pitch. Xhaka has self-described himself as a “Fake No. 10”, so look for him to play box-to-box and make some plays in the attacking third, especially for a Swiss side that doesn’t have much up top.

They win the group if…

I don’t really think this side has much of a chance to win the group and I’m getting tired trying to analyze this team so I’ll throw in some Swiss buzz words: Roger Federer, Nestlé, neutral, chocolate, Roger Federer.

Most likely to be meme-d

Xherdan Shaqiri

Have you seen this man’s calves?

Brazil

The No. 2 ranked team in the world are out for vengeance following their 7-1 trouncing at the hands of Germany in the semifinals of the 2014 World Cup on their home turf. It is a star studded roster for the Brazilians: seven players from the Premier League, five from La Liga and three a piece from Ligue 1 and Serie A. They are favored not only to win the group, but the whole goshdarn thing.

Tite is the man in charge, and Brazil has only lost once since he has taken over as manager in the summer of 2016.

Who to watch

Neymar

If you are going to only watch one player, I guess it’s Neymar, but don’t do yourself the disservice of locking on to just one player.

Here goes 7 minutes of your time.

They win the group if…

They do what we expect them to do and they play how they are supposed to play. They have the best squad in this group by far, and they have much more attacking firepower than the other three. Costa Rica could be very pesky and steal a point from Brazil, but they should have no problems with Switzerland or Serbia.

Most likely to be meme-d

Marcelo

What a mane.

Marcelo kind of reminds one of Corbin Bleu.

There are a lot of other contenders here. Gabriel Jesus will get a Jesus meme somewhere along the line if he scores a big goal, Neymar will give you a good flop or two, backup goalkeeper Ederson has braces, David Luiz looks like that one guy from the Simpsons and Thiago Silva looks like he could kill a man at times. Great roster. Fantastic memers.

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