The presence of both Serbia and Switzerland, along with 2014 World Cup surprise package Costa Rica, made Group E a potentially tricky section for Brazil, but they were still expected to progress with reasonable comfort to the Round of 16.
But their opening game draw against Switzerland and Switzerland’s victory over Serbia has upset the natural order. As a result, this match has the air of a play-off with the loser at risk of missing out on qualification.
While there are scenarios in which it would be possible for Brazil to draw this game and still go through -the only way that Tite’s side can be absolutely sure of progressing will be to beat Serbia. The same goes for the Serbs, who can reach the knock-out stages for the first time in three attempts if they beat Brazil.
Serbia v Brazil Prediction and Preview
This will be only the second time that Brazil and Serbia have met, following their first ever game; a friendly in Sao Paulo ahead of the last World Cup, which Brazil won 1-0.
Of course, Serbia was formerly a constituent part of Yugoslavia, and that country’s World Cup rivalry with Brazil dates back to the first ever tournament, in 1930, when Yugoslavia prevailed 2-1. They also met at the 1950 and 1954 World Cups, and again at the 1974 tournament. Two of those games were drawn, while Brazil won the 1950 edition 2-0 en route to the final.
Of more relevance to this game could be the outcome of Group F. At the time of the World Cup draw, that looked a straightforward contest between Sweden and Mexico for second place behind Germany, but following Germany’s opening defeat to Mexico, Joachim Low’s side are far from certain to win that section. If the Germans are to progress, it is more likely to be as Group F runners-up, which means they would play the winners of Brazil and Serbia’s Group, and they would certainly represent formidable Round of 16 opponents.
Brazil went into this tournament as clear favourites. That position was based on the ease with which they qualified through the CONMEBOL section, their abundance of world class attacking talents, and a defence that, on paper, ranks as one of the best in Brazil’s history.
There is no doubt that any team that can call upon Neymar, Gabriel Jesus, Philippe Coutinho, Robert Firmino and Willian has to be feared, while the experienced defensive centre-half pairing of Thiago Silva and Miranda, protected by the tireless Casemiro, is as solid as it gets.
Nevertheless, Tite’s team have weaknesses that Serbia may be able to exploit. Although talented young attacking midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic will not be given as much space as he was by the Costa Ricans in Serbia’s opening game, he is a combative, skilful player, who will put Casemiro and the Brazilian defence under pressure, forcing Paulinho to spend more time tracking back than getting forward to support the Brazilian forward line.
Brazil’s attacking full-backs may also expose them to danger. Serbia’s wide attackers Dusan Tadic and Adem Ljajic are ably supported by world-class full-backs in Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolorov, and will be aiming to exploit the gaps left when Marcelo in particular pushes up, potentially stretching the Brazilian defence and leaving them vulnerable.
The other problem facing Brazil is that they are not yet getting the best out of their forward line. Neymar’s party trick of cutting in from the left and running at the opposition centre-halves no longer carries any element of surprise, and all too often ends up with him sprawled on the turf protesting, while the likes of Jesus, Coutinho and Willian stand around unused. Serbia are solid and physically strong and while they may not show much going forward, they will be a formidable obstacle for a misfiring Brazilian forward line to attempt to break down.
There was only one red card shown during the first week of the tournament, but as the tension mounts and elimination becomes a possibility, that total may start to rise, and this particular game has plenty of potential for players to see red. Serbia are a robust side and will be strong in the challenge, and the same goes for a number of the Brazilian side, particularly Casemiro. If this game develops into the expected pattern of Brazil attempting to wear down their stubborn opponents, we can expect the rising frustration of the South Americans to lead to flash points and it would be no surprise to see a red card come out.
Coutinho First Goalscorer?
Neymar and Gabriel Jesus will be the main focus for the Serbian defence, which could be to Coutinho’s advantage. The Barcelona forward is arguably wasted in his midfield position in the current Brazilian formation, but it does give him the chance to ghost into the box unmarked or to line up one of his trademark thunderbolts, and at bigger odds than the three men in front of him, he could be a good bet for First Goalscorer.
So many of the games at this World Cup have come down to one team trying to wear down a defensive opponent and with qualification to the Round of 16 potentially at stake, we can’t expect this one to be any different. Brazil have the tools to do the job, but Serbia are resolute and have weapons of their own in Milinkovic-Savic and their wide players. This fixture is likely to be tense, niggly and explosive and it will take all of Neymar and co’s skill, ingenuity and patience to unlock the stubborn Serbian back-line and clinch their progression to the next round.
* Please note – odds mentioned above are subject to change, so always check the latest published odds to be fully certain before betting.
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