Serbia v Brazil – Spartak Stadium at 19:00
Group E denouement will unfold on Wednesday and there’s a lot riding on the outcome. Brazil are now only in need of a draw here to get through to the knockouts. But the five-time World Cup champions have faltered through first two games and are also in jeopardy of elimination. If Serbia overcomes the Selecao and Switzerland gets at least a point off Costa Rica, they will face a horrid early exit in the tournament. Current Asian handicap lines lean towards the South American giants. If recent World Cup meetings are to go by though (Argentina v Croatia 0-3: Germany v Mexico 0:1), highly-favored team Brazil are facing a tough challenge.
– Brazil had a lackluster start to their campaign and only managed a 1-1 draw in opener against Switzerland.
– Serbian Football Association chief Slavisa Kokeza has accused FIFA of bias against his country after they lost out to Switzerland.
– Defender Branislav Ivanovic has become Serbia’s most capped player at 105 appearances.
– Douglas Costa will miss the rest of the tournament after sustaining thigh injury.
– Both teams have won over Costa Rica in the group matches. (Serbia v Costa Rica 1-0: Brazil v Costa Rica 2-0).
Serbia’s battle plan has been straight and simple. They get the ball wide, cross it into the middle, and they play to the strengths of their in-form players. Assistant coach Milan Rastavac stated in an interview that his camp has analyzed Brazil’s gameplay in every aspect. He believes the opposing team has great individuals but has less order on the pitch than their disciplined side. Striker Mitrovic further added that he’s confident they can pull a miracle and knock Brazil out.
Although they’ve yet to live up to the pre-tournament hype, Brazil holds a more impressive record than Serbia in last six matches. They’ve collected four wins in the warm-up games where adversaries have been unable to answer their goals (Brazil v Austria 3-0: Brazil v Croatia 2-0: Brazil v Germany 1-0: Brazil v Russia 3-0) and they are yet to lose in the group phase.
Aleksandar Mitrovic will make things difficult for Brazil. He is a threat on crosses and does not back down on aerial duels. His clinical finishing and key passes have helped Serbia in their outings. His size makes him practically unbeatable once he’s in the air and his early headed goal gave the Balkans their dream start in the series. Expect him to take charge in this face-off.
Philippe Coutinho has been Brazil’s go-to goal machine to date. He scored the fantastic first-half bullet header strike against Switzerland and his command of the game has blown the Swiss players. He was also to thank for Brazil’s late winner over Costa Rica (in which case boss Tite took a dramatic tumble in his relief). He is an all-rounder that has been constant through every shift. Selecao legend Roberto Carlos has heaped praises for the Barcelona midfielder, indicating his ingenuity for good positions.
Neymar, the planet’s most expensive footballer, has Brazilian camp wondering if he’s already cracking under pressure. The star striker burst into tears after scoring the second goal in Selecao’s recent win over Costa Rica. Publication O Globo was quick to point out his surprising reaction, suggesting that the field meltdown might be a reflection of mental weakness in the team. But Neymar shut down critics saying he actually cried because of joy. If anything, we can assume the man is only starting to heat up and we’ll see more of him scoring suave goals.
Two defensive midfielders on the field to screen the centre-backs should give their lone striker enough space to press the opposition high up the pitch. The full-backs can surge up the wings and get assertive on the ball. Krstajic’s system has been an effective defensive structure in the group’s match with Costa Rica (5-4-1).
Brazil manager Tite is known for his preference for the 4-1-4-1 system—flexible and strategic since it can be converted to the conventional 4-3-3 without needing to call from the bench. With four midfielders at the support, Neymar can lead the forward line in attack.
PROBABLE STARTING XI:
Serbia: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Nikola Milenkovic, Aleksandar Kolarov, Antonio Rukavina, Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Branislav Ivanovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Luka Milivojevic, Adem Ljajic, Vladimir Stojkovic
Brazil: Marcelo da Silva, Miranda Filho, Thiago Silva, Fagner Lemos, Jose Paulinho, Renato Augusto, Carlos Casemiro, Neymar da Silva Santos, Philippe Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus, Alisson Becker
Serbia v Brazil: 1-2
There is more pressure on Brazil and they’re not accustomed to failing at this point in the playoffs. Serbia can exploit those nerves in Moscow and the European underdogs can even surprise the Brazilians in the defense. But Brazil has more experienced players and Coutinho may again deliver for the team. A deadlock can prevail in the first half and late goals from Jesus or Neymar can seal the deal.
MATCH BETTING ODDS:
*Prices correct at the time of writing.
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