After the horror show that was Brazil’s infamous 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals of the last World Cup, the five-time champions will be desperate to make amends at the 2018 edition of the competition in Russia this summer.
They certainly look to be in a stronger position to lift the trophy than last time out, even if their initial reaction to that stunning defeat hinted at more of the same. That demolition by Germany – the most astonishing result in World Cup history – shocked football betting fans and gave the Selecao the perfect chance to wipe the slate clean and start again with a fresh face.
Instead, they turned the clock back by appointing former manager Dunga, whose second spell at the helm brought a quarter-final defeat by Paraguay in the 2015 Copa America and a group stage elimination at a special Centenario edition of the continental competition 12 months later. By the time he was sacked in summer 2016, Brazil were lying in sixth place – outside even the inter-confederation play-off spot – in World Cup qualification with a third of the campaign completed.
The transformation under his successor, Tite, was remarkable: Brazil won 10 of their next 12 games to storm to the top of the table and qualify with ease. The former Corinthians head coach has installed a much more modern and cohesive style of play, encouraging his side to defend higher up the pitch and ensuring they remain compact both in and out of possession.
There has been much more emphasis placed on passing the ball through the centre of the pitch, although in Neymar, Willian and Douglas Costa Brazil still possess plenty of counter-attacking pace. No one will relish facing the five-time champions in Russia, and odds of 31/20 (888sport) on Tite’s men collecting maximum points in Group E look generous.
Switzerland are the bookmakers’ favourites to advance alongside Brazil in what is their 11th appearance at a World Cup finals. They have failed to progress beyond the last 16 in three of their last four outings on the biggest stage, with their last quarter-final appearance coming way back in 1954.
Vladimir Petkovic’s side needed the play-offs to book their place in Russia, but although they were not entirely convincing in a 1-0 aggregate victory over Northern Ireland, the Swiss were a little unfortunate not to proceed to the tournament automatically after winning nine of their 10 group games.
Arsenal new boy Stephan Lichtsteiner is a key player at right-back, while Ricardo Rodriguez does not need any invitation to bomb on from the other side of the defence. Petkovic has pushed for more of a possession-based style of late, but Switzerland can sometimes lack spark in the attacking third if Xherdan Shaqiri is not on his game. They should be good enough to finish second in Group E, but another last-16 exit – available at 19/10 (Karamba) – could be on the cards.
Costa Rica provided the underdog story of 2014, topping the so-called ‘group of death’ ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay, before beating Greece to reach the last eight. They came close to making it even further, but a penalty shoot-out loss to the Netherlands brought their remarkable run to an end at the quarter-final stage. Los Ticos will be dreaming of a repeat in Russia, but it is difficult to envisage the CONCACAF nation even making it to the last 16 this time around.
The team is virtually unchanged from the one which upset the odds in Brazil, and while familiarity can be a positive, there is concern among fans that several members of the group are now past their best.
Europe-based stars Joel Campbell, Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges have all endured difficult domestic campaigns, with Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas undoubtedly their most important player. Costa Rica won plenty of friends in 2014, but they will probably struggle in the coming weeks – it could be worth backing them to collect under two points at Sportnation.
Serbia complete Group E and will be hopeful of finishing second behind Brazil. Mladen Krstajic replaced Slavoljub Muslin as manager eight months ago and has instigated a number of changes, switching to a 4-2-3-1 formation and finally bringing talented midfielder Sergej Millinkovic-Savic into the fold.
An ageing defence may struggle to handle opposition attacks, however, and vulnerability at the back could ultimately prove the Eagles’ undoing in Russia. A price of 7/10 with 888sport on them suffering first-round elimination is not the best, so instead consider putting some money on Dusan Tadic finishing as Serbia’s top scorer at 7/2 with top football betting sites.