Odds-on favourite Brazil faces strong Serbia in World Cup opener

The pressure is on as Brazil aims for a record extending sixth title with a squad loaded with talent but full of young players, with 16 of them making their World Cup debut.

FILE PHOTO: Paring the young guns with an in-form Neymar have made Brazil a juggernaut.

FILE PHOTO: Paring the young guns with an in-form Neymar have made Brazil a juggernaut. | Photo Credit: GETTY IMAGES

The pressure is on as Brazil aims for a record extending sixth title with a squad loaded with talent but full of young players, with 16 of them making their World Cup debut.

Brazil is keeping its cards close to its chest under the spotlight of being the odds-on favourite as it prepares to face Serbia in its World Cup Group G opener on Thursday.

The pressure is on as Brazil aims for a record extending sixth title with a squad loaded with talent but full of young players, with 16 of them making their World Cup debut.

A new generation of talented youngsters like Vinicius Jr, Rodrygo, Raphinha, Eder Militao, Bruno Guimaraes and Antony, among others, have emerged on the elite stage of European club football.

Paring the young guns with an in-form Neymar have made Brazil a juggernaut, winning 37 of the 50 games played since its 2018 World Cup quarterfinals loss to Belgium in Russia.

In that period, Brazil lost one official match, a 1-0 defeat by bitter rival Argentina in the Copa America final.

It conceded 19 goals in this World Cup cycle, finishing 33 of those 50 matches with a clean sheet.

Tite’s background as a defensive coach means there has been much speculation over his team selection for the match against Serbia, with the biggest question mark surrounding Vinicius Jr.

The 22-year-old scored Real Madrid’s winner in the Champions League final against Liverpool and finished eighth in the Ballon d’Or ballot last month, elevating him to world-class level in his fifth season with the LaLiga side.

However, he still has to secure a place, with Tite not disclosing whether he will pair Fred with his Manchester United teammate Casemiro to strengthen the midfield or unleash Vinicius up front alongside Neymar, Richarlison and Raphinha.

Even the players don’t yet know for sure who will be playing from the start against Serbia, which clinched an automatic berth in Qatar with a comeback 2-1 win over Portugal in its last Group A qualifying match.

Overall, Serbia won six games and drew two, sending second-placed Portugal to the playoffs.

It arrives at the World Cup full of confidence after finishing top of its Nations League group, sealing promotion to top-tier League A with a 2-0 away win over Norway with goals from strike duo Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Serbia has never moved past the group stages at the World Cup since the breakup of Yugoslavia but will be looking to seize momentum in a strong Group G that also includes Switzerland and Cameroon. 

KEY STATS
Brazil has won the World Cup five times and is pre-tournament favourite to win a record-extending sixth title.
Brazil has played in every World Cup since 1930 but it has not reached the final since it last won the title in 2002.
Neymar was Brazil’s top scorer in the World Cup qualifiers with eight goals as it qualified for the tournament without losing a single game.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, Serbia’s all-time top scorer with 50 goals, also netted eight times in the World Cup qualifiers but is an injury doubt for the group opener.
Serbia was also unbeaten in its qualifying campaign where it topped the group with a 90th-minute winner from Mitrovic against Portugal in its final game to seal automatic qualification.
Serbia has never gone past the group stage since it split from Montenegro in 2006.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS
Brazil and Serbia also met each other in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, with the South American team winning 2-0 after Paulinho and Thiago Silva scored.
They have met each other only one other time previously with Brazil winning 1-0 in a friendly in 2014.
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