World Cup groups E and F: The winners’ turf

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Neymar Jr in action in February. 

By TAS MAVRIDIS

Two recent winners headline these two groups with five-time champions Brazil and four-time champions Germany being the main threat in each group.

However, with young exciting teams, Serbia and Sweden will look to kick start new golden generations.

Mexico will also look to finally break past the round of 16 while Costa Rica will hope to replicate their remarkable 2014 campaign which saw them go out in the quarterfinals on penalties.

Group E

Group E sees five-time champions Brazil looking to redeem themselves after disaster on home soil in 2014.

Joining the South American powerhouse are European sides Serbia and Switzerland along with Costa Rica.

TEAM PROFILES

Brazil

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After a shaky start to qualifying, the Selecao stormed home to qualify in top spot in South American qualifying.

The only nation to participate at every tournament, Brazil will hope to redeem themselves after losing 7-1 on home soil in the semi-final of the 2014 tournament against Germany.

Tite took over as coach in 2016 with Brazil sitting outside the qualification spots and has since rejuvenated the team with fresh talent and a style that is more reminiscent of the best Brazilian sides of all time.

With stars scattered across the field, Neymar Jr stands out as one of many Brazilian players with the X-factor to deliver a moment of brilliance when his side is most in need.

Despite an injury plagued first season at PSG, Neymar has shown signs of his class in the recent warm up matches with goals against Austria and Croatia.

With 55 goals in 85 matches for Brazil, Neymar will hope to replicate the likes of Pele and Ronaldo and lead his nation to World Cup glory.

From a tactical standpoint, Tite has deployed a 4-3-3 formation with Gabriel Jesus being the preferred number 9 and the likes of Neymar, Coutinho, Willian and Paulinho having the flexibility to shift between midfielders or wide supporting wingers.

Serbia

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The Eagles qualified after finishing on top of a challenging qualifying group that included Ireland, Wales and Austria.

Coached by Mladen Krstajic since since 2017, Krstajic has implemented a 4-2-3-1 formation in attempt to maximise the impact that the midfield pairing of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Nemanja Matic.

The Lazio and Manchester United Stars have the potential to form a potent midfield wall with Matic one of the best defensive midfielders in the English Premier League and Milinkovic-Savic having a break out season in Italy scoring 15 goals and recording 9 assists from central midfield.

Serbia had wins against Nigeria and Bolivia in 2017, as well as a narrow loss against Chile headlining the team’s pre-tournament form.

With Aleksander Mitrovic scoring five goals in his past three international matches, there is no doubt that Serbia is hitting form at the right time.

Switzerland

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After finishing second in their qualifying group behind Portugal, Switzerland qualified in controversial circumstances via a 1-0 playoff win against Northern Ireland.

Coached by Vladimir Petkovic since 2014, Die Natihave established a settled tactical process with a 4-2-3-1 formation being utilised for all the warm up games in 2017.

A crucial part of the Swiss defence as well as being an attacking threat is Ricardo Rodriguez.

The AC Milan left back has scored in each of the last two warm up matches against Spain and Japan demonstrating not only his defensive capabilities but also the attacking threat he has as a set piece specialist.

By setting up with the five-man midfield, the Swiss have established a solid defensive base with the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri and Breel Embolo in the attacking third looking to exploit any gaps the opposition defence may leave.

The Swiss are undefeated in 2017 with wins against Greece, Panama and Japan and a draw against Spain reinforcing how settled the Swiss side is heading into Russia 2018.

Costa Rica

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2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica qualified after finishing second in the CONCACAF Hexagonal round.

Oscar Ramirez has been coach of Los Ticos since 2015, with the focus of his tactics being organisation in defence.

However, with the changing of formations from friendly to friendly, it is still quite unclear how Costa Rica will line up on matchday one.

With variations of three and four-man defences, neither has really paid dividends in the lead up to the World Cup.

The star of the Costa Rican team is Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.

Navas has fond memories of the World Cup with the 2014 edition paving the way for his move to Real Madrid where he has since won multiple Champions League titles.

Warm up form for Costa Rica has been a mixed bag with wins against Scotland and Northern Ireland but losses against Tunisia, England and a heavy defeat against Belgium rounding out preparations.

PREDICTIONS

Brazil should qualify out of the group and go close to winning the whole tournament, with Serbia’s exciting side to qualify in second place.  

FIXTURES
Sunday 17 June: Costa Rica v Serbia @ 10pm
Monday 18 June: Brazil v Switzerland @ 4am
Friday 22 June: Brazil v Costa Rica @ 10pm
Saturday 23 June: Serbia v Switzerland @ 4am
Thursday 28 June: Serbia v Brazil @ 4am, Switzerland v Costa Rica @ 4am

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Germany’s Thomas Muller in action during a friendly against Saudi Arabia this month. 

Group F

Reigning champions Germany will be looking to break the trend of the past two World Cups, in which the previous winners have exited at the group stage.

Faced with the task of stopping the Germans are Mexico, Sweden and South Korea.

TEAM PREVIEW

Germany

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2014 Champions Germany qualified in convincing fashion finishing qualifying with 10 wins out 10 games and 11 points clear of second placed Northern Ireland.

Die Mannschaft have been coached by Joachim Low since 2006 who has since led his country to Victory at the 2014 World Cup and 2017 Confederations Cup.

With stars scattered from goalkeeper to up top, Germany shape as being the favourites to take home the trophy for the fifth time.

A key player for the German team will be Thomas Muller.

The Bayern Munich forward has scored 10 goals in two World Cup campaigns including winning the Golden Boot at the 2010 tournament and the Silver Boot at the 2014 tournament.

Despite his past two seasons at club level not being at his normally prolific form, Muller always seems to perform on the biggest stage and it hard to see how this time won’t be any different.

Tactically, Low has settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation with RB Leipzig forward Timo Werner likely to be at the point of attack with the likes of Muller, Marco Reus and Julian Draxler forming a dangerous forward line.

Germany have mixed things around in their pre-tournament form as a way for Low to get a glance at all players which has historically led to a mixed bag in terms of friendly results.

This lead up has been no different with recent games including a shock 2-1 loss against Austria and a 2-1 win over Saudi Arabia.

However, with their experience and class across the field, it is hard to see Low’s side not clicking come the start of the World Cup.

Mexico

Diego Reyes has been a late omission due to injury, Erick Gutierrez is his replacement. Click for bigger image

El Tri qualified for the World Cup after finishing in first place in the CONCACAF Hex qualifying round.

Juan Carlos Osorio has coached the national side since 2015 with his preferred tactics of a 4-2-3-1 formation signalling a focus on defence.

With up to eight players dropping into the defensive and midfield lines at any one time, Mexico has shown an ability to frustrate opposition teams.

With two clean sheets in their last three games and a moment of brilliance from Yussuf Poulsen, El Tri will look to use the same tactics on matchday one against Germany.

The star of the Mexican side is Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

The West Ham forward is his country’s all time leading goal scorer with 49 goals in 101 matches.

Despite not being able to replicate his Bayer Leverkusen form in his fist season for the Hammers, Chicharito’s instinct in the box will make him a threat which opposition teams will have to be wary of.

Sweden

Sweden qualified after shocking Italy in a playoff match recording a 1-0 win over two legs.

Janne Andersson has been coach since 2016, with his defensive mindset orchestrating the remarkable victory over Italy in 2017.

The use of a 4-4-2 formation has highlighted Sweden’s focus on defence with this line up ensuring that two banks for four players will make breaking down this side very hard for opposition players.

However, a cause for concern will be Sweden’s lack of goals in recent games with the side only scoring two goals in their last six matches dating back to the first leg of the playoff against Italy.

The man tasked with changing this is RB Leipzig star Emil Forsberg.

The winger has been a key cog in the Leipzig midfield this season with 5 goals and 4 assists along with an ability to pick almost any pass, most attacks will most likely pass through him.

With no Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line, Forsberg will have big shoes to fill in the shape of a leader of the next generation of Swedish footballers.

Korea Republic

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Korea qualified for tournament after finishing in second place behind Iran in group A of AFC qualifying.

Shin Tae-yong took charge of the national side after a qualifying campaign which saw the teams struggle and just scrape through.

With past coaching jobs including both the Under 20 and Under-23 national sides Shin has shown his willingness to give youth a chance to support his star players.

Shin has adopted a 4-4-2 formation in the recent friendlies with the undoubted star of this side being Tottenham’s Son Heung-min.

Son has been prolific for Spurs over the last two campaigns with 21 and 18 goals respectively.

With his ability to play out wide or as a number 9, Son will be at the forefront of all Korea’s attacking play, with the main concern being if he will have adequate support in an attacking sense.

The lead up has been concerning for the Taegeuk Warriors with the side only recording one win (2-0 against Honduras) and one draw (0-0 against Bolivia) in five warm up matches.

PREDICTION

Germany will likely break the recent trend and get out of the group, with Mexico’s experience likely to see them join the Germans in the knockout phase.

FIXTURES
Monday 18 June: Germany v Mexico @1am, Sweden v Korea Republic @10pm
Sunday 24 June: Germany v Sweden @1am, Korea Republic v Mexico @4am
Thursday 28 June: Germany v Korea Republic @12am, Mexico v Sweden @12am