Brazil – 9/2 Various Bookies
FIFA rank: 2
Despite being ranked by FIFA at number 2 the Canarinho are the bookie’s favourites to win this year’s World Cup. Brazil often set the bar for international football, yet it’s been 16 years since they last held aloft the World Cup trophy. Four years ago the five-time World Cup winners had a very disappointing time of it on home soil, where they were humiliated by 7-1 by the eventual winners Germany.
Brazil topped the South American qualifiers despite a slow start. It will be a surprise to see them qualifying from Group E without a maximum haul of nine points, however, it’s not all good news. Their star man Neymar is arguably one of the best players on the planet, he is in a race-against-the-clock to recover from a foot injury. Since his move to Paris St Germain Neymar scored 19 goals in 20 games. Dani Alves will miss the trip to Russia due to injury. Brazil’s squad is full of talent, Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Firmino and Gabriel Jesus all possess the quality required to ensure that Brazil gets a taste of victory this Summer.
Expect Brazil to make a sustained challenge to become world champions for the 6th time. If Tite has to make do without the services of Neymar he’s able to rely on others who are capable of stepping up to the plate. Brazil’s Group E opponents will do their best to ‘park the bus’ – it’s going to be interesting,
Costa Rica – 750/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Bryan Ruiz
Manager: Oscar Ramirez
Nickname: La Sele
FIFA rank: 25
La Sele reached the quarterfinals in 2014. Recent results have not gone their way, losing four of the last five games, the only victory came against Scotland. Oscar Ramirez will prepare his side for the World Cup with warm-up games against Northern Ireland, England and Belgium.
Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas is a quality keeper and is likely to be kept busy throughout the group stages. Sunderland’s Bryan Oviedo is arguably Costa Rica’s best defender. The 28-year-old had a torrid time during the domestic season. Look out for Rodney Wallace, no he hasn’t come out of retirement. The left winger plays for New York City FC in the MLS.
Costa Rica’s squad is ageing and isn’t blessed with a great deal of quality. Joel Campbell has missed much of the domestic season. The Real Betis forward will need to find some match fitness ahead of the group opener against Serbia. Bookies have them at odds of 1/5 to be eliminated from the group stage.
Serbia – 250/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Aleksandar Kolarov
Manager: Mladen Krstajic
FIFA rank: 35
Serbia surprised many people when they qualified by topping Group D ahead of the Republic of Ireland and Wales. A 2-1 home defeat to Morocco in March preceded a 2-0 away win against Nigeria in London. Chile will provide a decent test for Serbia prior to their Group E opener against Costa Rica.
Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Manchester United’s Manja Matic will provide plenty of quality in midfield. Roma’s Aleksandar Kolarov will skipper the side. The 32-year-old has played at the highest level for a number of years. Veteran Branislav Ivanovic will be a familiar name to many, the former Chelsea player now plays for Zenit St. Petersburg.
Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic has had a decent season in front of goal for Fulham. A playoff final appearance will mean a delayed link up with the national squad.
Serbia isn’t likely to win any fair-play awards, nor are they blessed with bags of World Cup experience. Poor discipline could well be their achilles’ heel. They can’t afford to go into the final group game against Brazil needing points, a good start is a must.
Switzerland – 150/1 Spread Ex
Captain: Stephan Lichtsteiner
Manager: Vladimir Petkovic
Team nickname: La Nati
FIFA rank: 6
The Swiss are placed 6th in the FIFA rankings. They qualified from Group B after winning nine and losing just once, however, a return of 27 points from 30 wasn’t enough to see them qualify automatically. Portugal finished top with a better goal difference and subsequently the Swiss qualified by beating Northern Ireland in the playoffs, enough said about that. Unbeaten in four, Switzerland will face Spain and Japan before their World Cup campaign commences.
Vladimir Petkovic led La Nati to the last 16 at Euro 2016, he will be looking to steer his side to the knockout stages this time around. Xherdan Shaqiri can pull the strings for the Swiss if he stays fit. The Stoke City winger may use the World Cup as an opportunity to make a move back to top-flight football. Hoffenheim’s Steven Zuber will provide balance on the opposite wing. Dimitri Oberlin is a player to watch. The 20-year-old forward has lots of pace, he scored four times in eight games for Basel in this season’s Champions League.
Switzerland’s group opener comes against Brazil but a heavy loss to the favourites could have a very negative effect on both morale and confidence. Switzerland has enough in their locker to beat Serbia and Costa Rica. Michael Lang is a right back who likes to score the odd goal, he scored winners against both Manchester clubs in the Champions League, will his contributions earn the Swiss a place in the knockout stages? Switzerland might just cause an upset or two.
*Written on May 17th by John Wozniak **Odds correct at the time of writing
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