World Cup Group E Preview - Brazil's renaissance?
Who is in the group?
Brazil, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Serbia.
Who are the favourites?
Having been the first team to qualify for the tournament following a sterling show in qualifying, Tite's Brazil will be the favourties to top the group and one of the favourites for the tournament as they look for their sixth World Cup triumph.
No team has won as many World Cups as Brazil and with the memory of their 7-1 spanking at the hands of Germany on home turf last time out, the 'Seleçao' will certianly not lack motivation for this one. Tite has an incredible record since taking over as boss, losing just one of his 17 games in charge, with that coming in a fiendly with bitter rivals Argentina. Whilst Neymar's return to fitness has been the big story in the run-up to the tournament, this Brazil team is by no means a one-man outfit, with the creative talents of Philippe Coutinho, Willian, Douglas Costa, Roberto Firmino and Gabriel Jesus all available for selection. The only side to have appeared at every single World Cup and currently ranked second in the world, the pressure will be on Brazil to perform this summer, but given that 1990 was the last time they failed to make the knockout stages, an early exit looks more than improbable.
Whilst their qualification for the tournament may have been questionable, with a dubious penalty against Northern Ireland in a play-off eventually securing their berth, Switzerland do have a decent amount of tournament experience within their ranks. However, the Swiss' last win in a knockout game at the World Cup came all the way back in 1954. Currently ranked sixth in the world, there is undoubted quality in the side in some areas, with Yann Sommer, Manuel Akanji, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri all capable of making the difference on their day. A place in the round of 16 should be expected, but progression beyond that could prove difficult, with Vladimir Petkovic's men continuing to lack a potent goal-getter.
The Central Americans are expected to be the whipping boys of the group, but the same could have been said four years ago when they finished ahead of England, Italy and Uruguay. Only penalties ended their run on that occasion, but you sense another miracle may just be beyond them in Russia, with star man Bryan Ruiz another four years older. Keylor Navas' performances in Brazil helped him secure a move to Real Madrid and he will need to be at his best again this summer if his side are to have any chance of extending their stay beyond three games.
The Sebs qualified comfortably for just their second tournament as an independent nation, but have previosuly failed to transfer their undoubted quality onto the international stage. All eyes will be on reported Manchester United target Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in midfield, but with a wealth of experience at the highest level domestically available to them in the form of Aleksandar Kolarov, Branislav Ivanovic and Nemanja Matic, there is the makings of a robust outfit. Likely to battle with Switzerland for second place, there is no reason why Mladen Krstajic's side couldn't progress to the knockout stages.