This summer we are fortunate enough to once again have the Greatest* Soccer Tournament on the planet to keep us entertained until NFL Training Camps start. In anticipation of the 2018 World Cup kicking off in mid-June in Russia, we’ll be taking a look at all 32 teams in each of the 8 groups.
* – The 2018 World Cup comes with an asterisk on “Greatest” because 5 of the Top 25 teams in the World failed to qualify. Those 5 are some of the biggest names and biggest draws both locally (with the United States missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986) and internationally with Italy, Chile, the Netherlands, and Wales.
Today, we continue with Group D which features perennial favorites Brazil along with 3 teams that could be tough outs if they make it through to the Knockout Stage.
Brazil has never missed a World Cup and has won the title a record 5 times. They have advanced out of the group stage every year since 1970 and have made at least the quarterfinals every year since 1990. The Selecao were the heavy favorites on home soil in 2014 and flamed out magnificently with a 7-1 shellacking at the hands of Germany. The disaster of the World Cup was followed by a quarterfinal exit in the 2015 Copa America then failing to advance out of the group stage in the Copa America Centenario. But a change in manager sparked a revival for Brazil
Brazil has returned to “tournament favorite” status after breezing through a difficult CONMEBOL qualification. The Selecao went 12-5-1 and finished 10 points ahead of second place Uruguay.
Players to Watch
Brazil is once again loaded with talent, but their success will hinge on whether or not all the individual ability can mesh into a team. Neymar is the most recognizable name on the team and just completed a big year with Paris Saint-Germain where he scored 19 times in 20 games. He will be joined at the front of Brazil’s attack by Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus. The midfield will be anchored by fellow Man City men Fernandinho and Fred along with Barcelona pair Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho. Real Madrid’s Marcelo and the PSG tandem of Marquinhos and Thiago Silva will need to be the stabilizing forces on the back line.
Switzerland is making their 4th consecutive World Cup appearance. In that time they have made it through the group stage twice but have not made it past the Round of 16 since 1954. Die Nati lost to Poland on penalty kicks in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016.
Switzerland finished tied with Portugal atop their World Cup Qualification group, but lost the goal differential tiebreaker. This sent them to the playoffs where they faced Northern Ireland and earned a place in Russia on a 1-0 aggregate. The Swiss enter the World Cup on a hot streak. Since losing to Portugal in qualifying they are 4-2-0 and have only allowed 1 goal (against Spain).
Players to Watch
Switzerland has a strong back line and midfield but lacks an elite finisher at the front. The defense is anchored by Stephan Lichsteiner who recently transferred to Arsenal after 8 years with Juventus and Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez who had the only goal in the playoff with Northern Ireland. Midfielder Granit Xhaka of Arsenal is the key to the Swiss attack.
Costa Rica’s run to the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014 was their best World Cup result ever. After being knocked out in the group stage of the Copa America Centenario, they came back for a 3rd place finish in the 2017 Gold Cup.
Costa Rica finished second in the CONCACAF Hexagonal with a 4-4-2 record. Costa Rica has not beaten a team that qualified for the 2018 World Cup in nearly a year. Los Ticos recent wins have come over the United States, Scotland, and Northern Ireland while they have fallen to England, Tunisia, Spain, and Panama.
Players to Watch
Bryan Ruiz is the sole man at the front of Los Ticos 5-4-1 formation, but there is quality in the midfield behind him. Celso Borges and Marco Urena will be tasked with funneling the ball to Ruiz. The real star of the team is keeper Keylor Navas who parlayed an outstanding performance in Brazil 2014 into a contract with Real Madrid. Navas was the regular starter for the Real Madrid team that won the last three UEFA Champions League titles.
Serbia, as a standalone entity, is making their second World Cup appearance after also qualifying in 2010. Interestingly, FIFA considers the historical teams of Yugoslavia direct predecessors of the Serbian team so some Serbian records claim the Yugoslav results dating back to the first World Cup in 1930. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the nation of “Serbia and Montenegro” qualified for the 2006 World Cup.
Serbia edged out Ireland to win their UEFA qualification group and earn a spot in Russia. The Eagles have had up-and-down results over the last year and are 4-1-3 since beating Ireland in September to essentially secure their World Cup spot. The Serbian team has been in a bit of turmoil since qualification with the firing of their manager. Will “caretaker” Mladen Krstajic be able to bring a talented roster together for a run in Russia?
Players to Watch
23-year old midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was at the center of the former manager’s dispute and firing and performed well in November friendlies. He figures to pair with Manchester United midfielder Nemanja Matic to orchestrate the Serbian attack. At the front, Serbia will need big performances from Newcastle forward Aleksander Mitrovic. The Eagles have experience in the back with keeper Vladimir Stjkovic and defenders Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksander Kolarov all having over 75 caps.
Here are the predictions of the SCB crew (including a special guest appearance by soccer expert SteelSon) on which teams from Group E will advance to the Knockout Stage.