Serbia and Brazil’s World Cup fate will be decided on Wednesday evening, with one of these teams almost certain to bow out of the competition before the knockout rounds.
The Selecao need only to avoid defeat to progress to the round of 16, while the White Eagles must realistically emerge victorious over the five-time world champions to avoid an early elimination. Serbia’s need for a win means we could be treated to an entertaining and high-scoring affair at the Spartak Stadium.
Brazil came flying out of the traps in the early stages of their first game in Russia, taking the lead against Switzerland and playing the type of fantastic football which seemed to confirm why so many pundits and punters backed them to go all the way this summer.
The deployment of Philippe Coutinho in midfield meant Brazil had an even more attacking line-up to the one they tended to use in qualification, with the Barcelona schemer able to combine with Neymar, Willian, Paulinho, Gabriel Jesus and buccaneering left-back Marcelo in advanced areas.
Tite’s charges threatened to blow the Swiss away in those first 20 minutes, but their reaction to going ahead was curious: rather than maintaining a high tempo and continuing to press from the front, Brazil sank back behind the ball and allowed their opponents to come onto them.
Switzerland’s goal may have come from a set-piece – it was therefore not a direct result of the Selecao’s puzzling passivity – but by the end of the encounter it was hard to deny that Vladimir Petkovic’s men were good value for their point.
Brazil were therefore under scrutiny heading into their second outing, and the pressure only rose when they failed to make the breakthrough against Costa Rica by the time the referee blew his whistle for half-time.
The South Americans looked set to be held to a second successive stalemate, particularly when the referee’s decision to award them a penalty was overturned by VAR, but Coutinho and Neymar popped up in stoppage time to get Brazil up and running at the tournament. There are still question marks surrounding this side, but it would have been extremely unfortunate had they not beaten Costa Rica last time out.
Serbia have experienced similar emotions but in reverse: first-game joy followed by second-game frustration. Taking part in their first World Cup since 2010, the White Eagles got off to the perfect start by beating Costa Rica 1-0, a deserved win which sent them to the top of Group E after the first round of fixtures.
Mladen Krstajic’s side controlled the match and created numerous goalscoring chances for striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, while attacking midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic caught the eye with his touch and creativity.
Serbia looked to be on their way to a second triumph in a row when Mitrovic gave them the lead against Switzerland, but they were unable to extend their advantage and were punished in the second half when Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri found the net – the latter in the final minute – to turn the game on its head. That late goal means Krstajic’s men must now pick up all three points against Brazil, a tall order which will probably be beyond them.
It will be interesting to see how Serbia approach their task. In the Costa Rica win they funnelled much of the play through Milinkovic-Savic in central areas, whereas in the Switzerland defeat they tended to attack down the flanks.
The latter may be preferred here due to left-back Marcelo’s propensity to leave space in behind him, and Serbia must ensure they do not fall into the trap of throwing too many bodies forward early on – although they need to win, it would be a mistake to take excessive risks in the opening exchanges.
As well as their technical prowess, this Brazil team contains plenty of speed in transition. That could be useful in a match where Serbia, sooner or later, will have to leave space in behind their backline and between midfield and defence, and it is easy to envisage the Selecao slicing through their opponents on the counter-attack.
Indeed, this game certainly feels like it could be come stretched – particularly in the second half – which is why goals should be on the cards at the Spartak Stadium.
The price offered by 888sport on over 3.5 being scored in total is a healthy 13/5, while Karamba offer 1/1 on both teams finding the back of the net. Brazil should qualify for the knockout stage here, but the best market from a football betting perspective is goals – and plenty of them.