FIFA World Cup 2018: Brazil bank on Neymar to break 16-year trophy wait
If there’s one team that desperately wants to lay their hands on the World Cup, it has to be Brazil. If not winning the trophy for close to 16 years isn’t frustrating enough, brushing off the 1-7 thrashing, with which they bowed out against Germany last time around, should motivate them to do well.
Slotted in Group E alongside Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica, the five-time champions have enough ammunition to go the distance as well. With Neymar, Firminho and Gabriel Jesus upfront, Brazil look an attacking side and were in good shape in the qualifying campaign when they finished 10 points ahead of second-placed Uruguay while pumping in 41 goals in 18 games.
The Latin American giants were the first team to qualify for the World Cup. Though there were a few concerns regarding Neymar, his form in the first friendly against Croatia should come as a breather for any Brazilian fan.
The other team tipped to go through to the next round and cause a few upsets is Costa Rica. And they have history on their side. In the last edition, they beat both Italy and Uruguay while topping a group, which also had England. A lot will depend on their star custodian Keylor Navas who will have to continue his Real Madrid form.
The pressure will however be huge on Serbia given that they’re the lowest-ranked side in the group. But if they manage to go through, it’ll be the first time the country would qualify on their own as independent nation. In their previous 11 appearances, they’ve made it to two semi-final stages of a World Cup — 1930 and 1962 — albeit as part of Yugoslavia.
In 2006, they participated as Serbia and Montenegro. It will also be interesting to see how young guns like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Andrija Zivkovic, Marco Grujic perform given they were part of the under-20 side that lifted the World Cup in 2015. They also have Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Matija Nastasic to provide a good balance of youth and experience.
Chances are bleak for Switzerland although they’re currently ranked sixth in the world. They narrowly made it to the World Cup this year with a goalless draw to defend their 1-0 win over Northern Ireland in the play-offs and will bank on Xherdan Shaqiri, Granit Xhaka and Stephen Lichsteiner to pull them through. However, a major issue is the lack of a lethal striker upfront.