Five-time champions Brazil headline Group E, but can Serbia cause a surprise? Read this 2018 World Cup Group E preview for all the expert analysis and predictions you need ahead of the tournament.
World Cup Group E prediction: What do the odds say?
Elo World Ranking: 1
Previous best performance: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
Top scorer in qualifying: Gabriel Jesus (7 goals)
Key player: Neymar
Odds to advance from group: 1.035*
Odds to win World Cup: 5.030*
After the disappointment of their home World Cup Brazil are back with a point to prove in Russia.
The Brazilians coasted through qualification, topping the notoriously difficult South American qualifying tournament by a clear ten points. They possessed the best defensive and offensive records in the region by some distance after the marathon 18 game qualification round.
Helpfully for bettors, coach Tite has released the team which, barring injuries, will start the opening match against Switzerland.
This attacking firepower of the starting 11 is notorious. In Philippe Coutinho and Neymar the Brazilians can field the two most expensive players of all time, whilst Gabriel Jesus is already a clinical finisher at the age of 21. Paulinho will also offer extra attacking threat from midfield and contributed six goals in qualifying.
Brazil can also field a star-studded defence. Dani Alves and Marcelo form potentially the best fullback pairing in the tournament and are key contributors in both attack and defence. The centre-back pairing of Miranda and Marquinhos is both athletic and composed on the ball whilst Roma’s Alisson has become one of the most highly rated goalkeepers in the world.
The one concern with Brazil’s team is the way they line up in midfield. Casemiro, Renato Augusto and Paulinho offer an abundance of energy but are not as comfortable on the ball as those the likes of Spain, Germany and France can field. This could hinder Brazil’s ability to dominate possession and place too much of the creative emphasis on Coutinho and Neymar.
This should not be a concern in the group stage however. The raw ability of the Brazilian attack should be enough to carry them through comfortably. Switzerland and, in particular, Serbia will be good tests for Brazil but in close matches they possess talents like Roberto Firmino and Willian who can change the game in their favour from the bench.
They will be eager to top the group and avoid a potential showdown with Germany, who famously defeated them in 2014. As a result, a bet on the Brazilians to win Group E at odds of 1.263* should be a relatively safe one.
Elo World Ranking: 14
Previous best performance: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
Top scorer in qualifying: Haris Seferović (4 goals)
Key player: Xherdan Shaqiri
Odds to advance from group: 2.110*
Odds to win World Cup: 162.150*
Switzerland have become World Cup mainstays having taken advantage of their Under-17 World Cup winning “Golden Generation” to qualify for the past three tournaments.
The Swiss had a very weak qualifying group with Portugal being the only other side to have qualified for a recent World Cup finals. They were pipped to the top of that group by the Portuguese on goal difference and had to endure a nervy playoff against Northern Ireland.
Switzerland are a tier below the top teams in Europe but are capable of producing the odd surprise result. The “Alpine Messi” Xherdan Shaqiri has provided them with their best tournament moments. He scored the most recent World Cup finals hat-trick (just the 50th in history) in Brazil and produced a stunning bicycle kick at Euro 2016.
Shaqiri has found some consistency for his club side Stoke, but his propensity to produce moments of magic followed by anonymous displays (those three against Honduras were his only goals in Brazil) fits in with Switzerland’s ability to cause the occasional surprise but ultimately not threaten the top teams.
They will have their work cut out to qualify from this group. Switzerland are unlikely to challenge Brazil in their opening game and may be playing catch up in their second round match against Serbia, the major threat to their qualification spot. A loss in that match could end their tournament so they will need to produce a big performance when it counts.
With a tough battle ahead for second place the Swiss are in real danger of not reaching the round of 16 in Russia. team make Switzerland not to advance from the group is available at odds of 1.740* and could provide value considering the chance of them being usurped by an improving Serbia.
Elo World Ranking: 31
Previous best performance: Quarter-finals (2014)
Top scorer in qualifying: Marco Ureña(4 goals)
Key player: Keylor Navas
Odds to advance from group: 5.760*
Odds to win World Cup: 464.300*
Costa Rica were a surprise package in Brazil. Los Ticos were given little chance of qualifying from a group containing three former World Cup winning nations but surprised everyone to top the group.
On paper this is an easier group than Costa Rica encountered in 2014 but this squad is in worse shape than the one that performed so strongly in Brazil. Key players from that run to the quarter-finals have struggled for game time at club level.
Joel Campbell offered pace and menace in attack but has not scored for his country since 2016 and has failed to live up to his potential. Christian Gamboa was a star performer in Brazil but has not played for Celtic.
Playmaker Bryan Ruiz is perhaps past his prime and has struggled for game time at Sporting Lisbon this season. Meanwhile striker and top scorer in qualifying Marco Ureña plays in the MLS, a lower standard than his Group E counterparts.
One man who has kicked on from that tournament is Keylor Navas who is now the starting goalkeeper for Real Madrid. If he repeats his 2014 heroics then Costa Rica have an outside chance of progressing from this group.
Despite this Los Ticos will be second favourite in every game they play. Serbia and Switzerland have superior players whilst Brazil are likely to lay siege to the Costa Rican goal. Winning a match should be considered an impressive performance from this Costa Rican team so backing them to win less than 1.5 points at 1.840* could be a sensible bet.
Elo World Ranking: 24
Previous best performance: Fourth place (as part of Yugoslavia in 1930 and 1962)
Top scorer in qualifying: Aleksandr Mitrovic (6 goals)
Key player: Nemanja Matic
Odds to advance from group: 2.160*
Odds to win World Cup: 212.510*
An impressive qualifying campaign saw Serbia top a group containing Euro 2016 semi-finalists Wales as well as a talented Austria side.
Serbia are known to be solid in defence and can call upon the experience of Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandr Kolarov.
It is the central midfield area where Serbia possess quality most other sides in the tournament will be envious of. Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic is the leader in this area and is a familiar name to soccer fans after a superb spell at Chelsea. He is joined in the squad by Crystal Palace’s “Mr Reliable" Luka Milivojevic and the sought after creative midfielder Andrija Zivkovic.
The jewel in Serbia’s crown is Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who is one of the hottest properties in World soccer currently. The 23-year-old midfielder possesses a rare combination of elite athleticism and superb technical skill that makes him a unique opponent for opposition defences. A relative late-comer to the Serb team, it is up to manager Mladen Krstajić to get the most from a player who could light up the tournament.
Serbia typically play a 4-2-3-1 formation to get the most from their creative players behind a lone forward. Zivkovic is joined by Dusan Tadic and Adem Ljajic in those positions. All of those players possess superb technique and have the ability to unlock defences.
Serbia’s striker situation is also looking more promising than it appeared in January. Aleksandr Mitrovic has rediscovered the form that made him such a promising young talent on loan at Fulham whilst youngster Luka Jovic has produced 0.82 expected goals per 90 at Eintracht Frankfurt this season, so is already an attacking threat at senior level.
The Serbs lack of tournament experience may be a factor that counts against them. Fortunately for Serbia an opening fixture against the group’s weakest side, Costa Rica, provides them with the perfect opportunity to ease themselves into the tournament. A win in that fixture ensures that positive result against Switzerland puts them in a commanding position ahead of a tough final game against Brazil.
Given all they have going for them and the beneficial way fixtures have been structured, backing Serbia to advance from the group could offer value to bettors who believe their quality can overcome a lack of experience at this level.