Group E: It’s going to be Samba time in Russia

All eyes will be on Neymar and the five-time World Champion Brazil in Group E.

Roberto Firmino's (R) club form combined with Neymar's ruthlessness in front of goal may prove too much for the rest of Group E   -  AP

 

Pele once described football as the beautiful game, and the best exponents of it are the Brazilians, both on and off the pitch. The greatest football star of all time understands this best – he played to game for more than two decades and won three World Cups.

 

And what makes a team like Brazil so attractive is its enterprising and attacking brand of football coupled with crazy fans, who come in brightly coloured clothing and perform frantic dance routines to the loud and echoing samba beat. That sound is going to be as loud when the five-time champion takes on a confident Switzerland in its opening game on June 17.

Brazil

The mighty Brazilians lost their mojo and were gunned down 7-1 by the Germans in the 2014 semifinals.

The entire country went into mourning, but not its stars. They fought the qualification odds to be in contention again. And the man who brought about the big transformation is none other than Tite, who took over at a time when Brazil was in sixth place with one-third of the qualifiers over. Under the 57-year-old coach, Brazil was the first side to seal a place in Russia.

Today, the team is back to playing the style of football that once made fans fall in love with it. While Neymar is the team’s standout star, Tite does not believe in one man delivering the goods and has a range of options close to his chest.

Key player

Neymar

A Confederations Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist, Neymar will be the team’s star striker. He is fast recovering from a metatarsal injury and showed signs of his brilliance by scoring against Croatia and Austria in a warm-up friendlies recently.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Alisson, Ederson, Cassio.

Defenders: Danilo, Fagner, Marcelo, Filipe Luis, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Miranda, Pedro Geromel.

Midfielders: Casemiro, Fernandinho, Paulinho, Fred, Renato Augusto, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Douglas Costa.

Forward: Neymar, Taison, Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino.

World Cup record

20 appearances

Champion in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002

Switzerland

Switzerland is best known for its precision (just like its famous clocks) and ball possession, which were there for all to see in its near-flawless qualifying campaign. Manager Vladimir Petkovic has injected a more attacking possession-based style of play, but above all he has brought a sense of togetherness over the last few years.

Swiss captain Stephan Lichtsteiner is the most experienced player in the team   -  Getty Images

 

In 2006, Switzerland played out a goalless draw with eventual runner-up France, and it defeated Spain 1-0 in the next edition, which the latter went on to win. This time around, Switzerland may well spark a few surprises – a 2-0 win over the newly crowned EURO champion Portugal at the start of the 2018 qualifying campaign is a classic example.

Key player

Stephan Lichtsteiner

The full-back is the most experienced in the team, and he dons the role of both provider and scorer. The captain, loved by his fans at home, is expected to guide the team past the group stage in possibly his last World Cup.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer, Roman Burki, Yvon Mvogo.

Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner, Johan Djourou, Ricardo Rodriguez, Fabian Schar, Francois Moubandje, Michael Lang, Manuel Akanji, Nico Elvedi.

Midfielders: Valon Behrami, Xherdan Shaqiri, Gelson Fernandes, Blerim Dzemaili, Granit Xhaka, Steven Zuber, Remo Freuler, Denis Zakaria.

Strikers: Haris Seferovic, Josip Drmic, Breel Embolo, Mario Gavranovic.

World Cup record

10 appearances

Quarterfinals in 1934, 1938, 1954

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, which finished second to Mexico in its 2018 qualifying group, will take on Serbia at the Samara Arena on June 17. Former Fulham attacking midfielder Bryan Ruiz will captain the side for the second time in consecutive World Cups.

Home to fewer than five million people, Costa Rica enjoyed a great debut by making it to the knockout stage in Italy in 1990. But the best ever finish for the team came in 2014, when it reached the quarterfinala before being knocked out by the Netherlands on penalties.

Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a three time consecutive Champions League winner with Real Madrid   -  Getty Images

 

With the ability to punch above its weight, the team, which has a set of talented footballers with great experience, has a good chance of getting past Serbia and advancing even further. Its star player is goalkeeper Keylor Navas, a three-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid. Joel Campbell is another shining star known for his speed and match winning qualities.

Key player

Keylor Navas

The goalkeeping great adds vital experience to the team. The 31-year-old knows for sure what it takes to win and the team will rely on him as much as anybody else.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas, Patrick Pemberton, Leonel Moreira.

Defenders: Cristian Gamboa, Ian Smith, Ronald Matarrita, Bryan Oviedo, Oscar Duarte, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Francisco Calvo, Kendall Waston, Johnny Acosta.

Midfielders: David Guzman, Yeltsin Tejeda, Celso Borges, Randall Azofeifa, Rodney Wallace, Bryan Ruiz, Daniel Colindres, Christian Bolanos.

Forwards: Johan Venegas, Joel Campbell, Marco Urena.

World Cup record

4 appearances

Quarterfinals in 2014

Serbia

After eight appearances as Yugoslavia and two as Serbia and Montenegro, Serbia finally played under its current iteration in 2010. But since the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the team has not made it to the knockout stages. Serbia qualified in 2010 but exited in the group stage with two losses and one win, which came against a powerful German side.

Nemanja Matic's experience will be key for Serbia to make it to the knockout stages   -  Getty Images

 

Interestingly, the Serbian youngsters were the 2015 under-20 World Cup winners. And seven stylish stars from that squad were been included in the 27-member list for this summer. Its key players are Nemanja Matic, a two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea; Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic, the team’s leading scorer in UEFA qualifiers and Branislav Ivanovic, who recently reached a century of caps for his national side. The team looks promising and is quite positive about its knockout chances. It can well be the start of a new era for Serbian football and its fans.

Key player

Nemanja Matic

Tall and tactically strong, Matic will be a big threat to the other teams. He has been best described as a giant – not for his size but for the way he plays.

Squad

Goalkeepers: Marko Dmitrovic, Predrag Rajkovic, Vladimir Stojkovic.

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov, Branislav Ivanovic, Nikola Milenkovic, Milan Rodic, Antonio Rukavina,Uros Spajic, Dusko Tosic, Milos Veljkovic.

Midfielders: Marko Grujic, Filip Kostic, Adem Ljajic, Nemanja Matic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luka Milivojevic, Nemanja Radonjic, Dusan Tadic, Andrija Zivkovic.

Strikers: Luka Jovic, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Aleksandar Prijovic.

World cup record

11 appearances (8 as Yugoslavia, 2 as Serbia and Monetenegro, 1 as Serbia)

Third in 1930