A lot can change in the space of two years, but it was almost impossible to envisage Brazil being in this position back in June 2016. The stunning 7-1 defeat by Germany in the semi-finals of the last World Cup gave the five-time champions an opportunity to go back to the drawing board, but they instead failed to truly acknowledge their problems and ended up reappointing former national team boss Dunga instead.
The 2015 Copa America brought a quarter-final exit at the hands of Paraguay, before Brazil failed to even make it beyond the group phase at a special Centenario edition of the tournament 12 months later. In World Cup qualifying, meanwhile, they sat in sixth place – outside the qualification spots – after a third of the campaign had elapsed.
Everything changed with the installation of Tite, the former Corinthians coach who promptly led his country to 10 wins in a row. Brazil ended up qualifying for the World Cup with ease, topping the notoriously difficult South American group at a canter as their continental rivals struggled to keep up.
The results were not the only thing that improved: Tite has also transformed the side’s style of play, making them a great deal more compact in and out of possession while also encouraging passing football through the middle of the pitch.
Brazil certainly still possess tremendous speed on the counter-attack, but that is now an option at their disposal rather than their go-to tactic, and they will look to get on the front foot and overwhelm their opponents in Sunday’s showdown in Rostov - something for football betting enthusiasts to keep in mind..
There are two different readings of Switzerland’s qualification campaign. The favourable one points out that Vladimir Petkovic’s men were unfortunate to have to go through the play-offs after winning nine of their 10 group games, a superior record to the likes of France, England, Poland and Serbia – all of whom topped their sections.
The alternative view, however, states that the task of beating Hungary, Faroe Islands, Latvia and Andorra home and away was not the most difficult, while they undoubtedly relied on some good fortune to squeeze past Northern Ireland in a two-legged play-off.
The journey to Russia no longer matters in one sense, but it does back up the view that Switzerland’s chances of progression to the knockout stage are very much in the balance in this tough group.
Petkovic will instruct his side to sit deep and play on the break here, with full-backs Stephan Lichtsteiner and Ricardo Rodriguez – usually key attacking weapons – likely to be pinned back inside their own half for large chunks of the game. Xherdan Shaqiri will be relied upon to produce moments of magic in the final third throughout the tournament, but Breel Embolo’s speed could make him the key man on this occasion.
Switzerland have often lacked a cutting edge at the top of the pitch – Haris Seferovic is not the most prolific centre-forward – but they will not be able to waste any of the chances they are able to carve out against a side like Brazil.
The Selecao will line up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Philippe Coutinho’s starting position the big question; the Barcelona man tended to line up on the right during qualification, but Tite has recently been experimenting with the 26-year-old in a more central role against teams who are likely to stand off and deny Brazil space in advanced areas. The rest of the team picks itself by this stage, with Danilo having seemingly won the battle to start at right-back as Dani Alves’ replacement.
Tite’s men will be determined to get off to a positive start, although they will have to remain patient if they are unable to make the breakthrough in the early stages of Sunday’s encounter. Switzerland will hope to scrape a point but would probably settle for a narrow defeat, with subsequent meetings with Serbia and Costa Rica the ones that will decide their fate. Consider backing a Brazil win to nil at odds of 21/20 with Karamba, with Gabriel Jesus a good value choice to open the scoring at 10/3 (888sport).