The 2018 World Cup kicks off in just over six months’ time, but which side will emerge from the pack to lift the famous trophy in Russia? With 32 teams slogging it out for supremacy, Marathonbet takes a closer look at each World Cup finals group in a bid to whittle down the contenders.
Group E: Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia
This cultural melting pot is home to five-time world champions Brazil – but qualification to the last 16 might not be as easy for them as some think. The Samba Kings lost their opening qualifying match against Chile, but were then unbeaten in the remaining 17 games and ended up topping the group. They are now ranked second in the world, and with the arrival of manager Tite in 2016 it seems the nation is slowly beginning to patch up its wounds from the embarrassing 7-1 defeat at the 2014 World Cup semi-final to Germany on their home turf. Things may have been different that night in Belo Horizonte if star man Neymar was on the pitch, but he missed out through injury. Now, four years on, the PSG star will be keen to make up for the 2014 horror show at this year’s World Cup in Russia.
Odds suggest Switzerland and Serbia will give Brazil their biggest challenge in the group but it’s worth keeping an eye on Costa Rica as a lively outsider. The South Americans were a surprise package at Brazil 2014 and had the likes of Arsenal man Joel Campbell helping them progress to the quarter-finals for the first time ever. Campbell kept up his form in front of goal during qualification for Russia, notably when netting a brace in the 4-0 drubbing of USA in November 2016. Combined with the likes of Sporting star Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s energetic skipper who is also fond of a goal or two, Los Ticos should not be totally dismissed from making it out of the group.
The Swiss meanwhile only made it to Russia via the play-offs. Despite notching up 27 points from a possible 30, a final day loss to Portugal saw them miss out on automatic qualification. Like Costa Rica, their best-ever World Cup finish has only ever been the quarter-finals but they did complete a marathon winning streak of nine games in qualification – including a 2-0 defeat of Portugal in September. Another Arsenal man, Granit Xhaka, looks most likely to pull the strings for his country but the likes of Stoke ace Xherdan Shaqiri will also have a big part to play.
Serbia qualified by winning their group and are not short of players familiar to those following the Premier League. Best known is Branislav Ivanovic, who has captained the team since 2012. Following 9 years and 261 appearances for Chelsea, he now plies his trade in Russia with Zenit St Petersburg. Ex Chelsea colleague, Nemanja Matic, now at Manchester United, will be shoring up their midfield. Aleksandar Kolarov sealed qualification against Ireland in September with a lethal left-foot strike that Premier League fans will be all too familiar with. Elsewhere, keep an eye out for Southampton flyer Dusan Tadic and Hamburg counterpart Filip Kostic, who can pose serious problems for teams down the wings.
Group E top stat:
Aside from automatic-qualifiers Russia, Brazil were the first side to secure their 2018 World Cup spot courtesy of a 3-0 victory over Paraguay in March 2017.
Marathonbet odds for winning the group: Brazil (13/50) – Switzerland (6/1) – Serbia (7/1) – Costa Rica (18/1). Check the full Group E betting markets here.
When and where can I watch Group E games? And what TV channels are they on?
June 17: Costa Rica v Serbia (1pm, Samara, ITV)
June 17: Brazil v Switzerland (7pm, Rostov-on-Don, ITV)
June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica (1pm, St Petersburg, ITV)
June 22: Serbia v Switzerland (7pm, Kaliningrad, BBC)
June 27: Serbia v Brazil (7pm, Moscow, ITV)
June 27: Switzerland v Costa Rica (7pm, Nizhny Novgorod, ITV)