FIFA World Cup 2018: Brazil target Group E top spot against Serbia
After unconvincing showings in their opening two games, Brazil take on Serbia in their final group game at the Spartak Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday knowing a loss could knock them out of the World Cup. A win, on the other hand, will take them to the next round where they are likely to meet Germany, their tormentors in the semi-finals of the 2014 World Cup at Belo Horizonte.
With a draw and a win so far, Brazil currently top Group E with as many points as Switzerland but with a marginally better goal difference. Serbia, having beaten Costa Rica, suffered a dramatic loss to Switzerland. This leaves them needing a win over Brazil to make it to the next round.
For the five-time world champions, the equation is simple: avoid defeat, reach the next round. The Tite-coached side may not mind getting a draw and finishing second in the group, assuming Switzerland beat Costa Rica, as it may put them on the easier side of the draw on paper, apart from the possibility of avoiding Germany next.
Philippe Countino has been the star for Brazil, scoring against Switzerland and Costa Rica. Neymar, on the other hand, is yet to blossom after being subject to intense scrutiny by the opposition. He did score against Costa Rica right at the end of their 2-0 win and will hope that was the first of many in this campaign.
The injured duo of Danilo and Douglas Costa are set to miss the game and Tite is unlikely to make any changes to the side that overpowered Costa Rica. Tite, however, will hope that forward Gabriel Jesus joins the scoring party after drawing blanks so far.
Serbia, on the other hand, will be hoping to put memories of their 1-2 loss to the Swiss behind them. The politically-charged game, which saw Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri – both with roots in Kosovo – celebrate with gestures of the Albanian eagle, left a bitter taste in Serbian mouths. To compound matters, coach Mladen Krstajic wasn’t pleased with the referee’s decision to deny his side a penalty against the Swiss.
He said referee Felix Brych should be sent to The Hague and ‘put him on trial, like they did to us’. Krstajic continued his rant on Instagram and now faces the possibility of a fine or even a touchline ban.
Krstajic’s side is likely to be comfortable with offering Brazil more of the possession and hurt the Selecao on the counter. Serbia also have a potent aerial attack in the form of Mitrovic and will hope to put the Brazilian backline under pressure from set pieces. The Serbs boast of a strong midfield that includes Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and Lazio youngster Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. The latter has been employed in a slightly advanced role, but he could be forced to drop deeper against Brazil.