I have a love/hate relationship with groups like this.
On one hand, I want to see teams challenge a great team like Brazil and certainly there are a couple of teams in this group that can do that. Switzerland are a quiet and consistent team and solid at the back, Serbia starting group is going to give everyone headaches and Costa Rica stunned everyone last year to make the quarterfinals so we shouldn’t sleep on them again, right? Only two teams can go through, and really, if we assume Brazil is one of them, that’s three teams for one spot. Something’s got to give.
Also, whoever thought this whole Group E plays, then Group F, then Group E thing was a good idea is wrong and I don’t get it.
Why do we call this a “primer” and not a preview? Because this is more a lot of key information in one place that I think is a handy reference for viewers rather than a ton of specific analysis on what each team can or could do at the World Cup.
TV SCHEDULE (all times US Eastern)
Sunday, June 17
8 AM – Costa Rica vs Serbia, Samara Arena, Samara, FOX/Telemundo
2 PM – Brazil vs Switzerland, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, FS1/Telemundo
Friday, June 22
8 AM – Brazil vs Costa Rica, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, FS1
2 PM – Serbia vs Switzerland, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, FOX
Wednesday, June 27
2 PM – Serbia vs Brazil, Spartak Stadium, Moscow, FOX/Telemundo or Universo
2 PM – Switzerland vs Costa, Rica Nizhny Novgorod Stadium, Nizhny Novgorod, FS1/Telemundo or Universo
Head Coach: Adenor “Tite” Bacchi (BRA)
Rankings: FIFA 2 / ELO 1
Nicknames: Selecao, Canarinho (Little Canaries)
Qualification: CONEMBOL (S America) Round Robin Champions
Appearance: 21st / Best Finish: Champions (‘58, ‘62, ‘70, ‘94, ‘02)
Recent Results: June 3, vs Croation (in England), W 2-0; June 10, at Austria, W 3-0
Players You Should Know/Watch: Neymar, Coutinho, Willian - This group is immensely talented as individuals. What will make Brazil a champion is how well these three preform as a unit because they’re going to create chances and score goals. The question is can they do it in the semis or final and is Neymar healed from a broken foot?
Brazil is good at soccer, everyone knows this. However, we also know the limitations this team can have defensively, in case you forgot what happened on home soil four years ago. Brazil needs to do everything they can to win the group because finishing second in this group means facing Germany in the second round. They’ll likely top this group and dispatch the Group F runner up, possibly Mexico, and we’ll see how the rest of the bracket turns out.
COSTA RICA [CRC/E3]
Head Coach: Oscar Ramirez (CRC)
Rankings: FIFA 23 / ELO 31
Nickname: Los Ticos
Qualification: CONCACAF (N America), “The Hex” Runners-up
Appearance: 5th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
Player You Should Know: GK Keylor Navas, Real Madrid (ESP), 81 caps - The best goalkeeper in CONCACAF (apologies to Andre Blake of Jamaica/Philly/UConn fame who will own that title soon) and one of the best keepers in the world, but Navas was one of the reasons for the Ticos stunning quarterfinal run in 2014. He just won the Champions League final with Madrid
Player You Should Watch: FW Bryan Ruiz, Sporting CP (POR), 110 caps / 24 goals - So many players I could put here... fullback Bryan Oviedo, striker Joel Campbell and any of the MLS guys. Ruiz will do nicely however, and I do hope someone signs him so fans can see a few good years from him stateside before he retires.
Last year everyone figured Costa Rica for the minnows in a group with England, Italy and Uruguay and then the Ticos won it and got to the quarters. This year, I don’t think a mediocre England team is going to bail them out of the group stage because Brazil actually shows up when these tournaments start. The Ticos are a solid team and while I don’t think they can top Group E, they’re certainly a contender for the second spot behind Brazil though I wish they didn’t get thumped in their final two friendlies. They’ll need a combination of four points from Serbia and Switzerland which doesn’t sound nearly as impossible what they did last year.
Head Coach: Mladen Krstajic (SRB/MON)
Rankings: FIFA 34 / ELO 23
Nickname: The Eagles
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Group D Winners
Appearance: 2nd as Serbia, 12th total (8 as Yugoslavia, 2 as Serbia and Montenegro)
Best Finish: 4th Place (as Yugoslavia in 1930, 1962 / Group Stage as Serbia in 2010)
Recent Results: June 4, vs Chile (in Austria), L 0-1; June 9, vs Bolivia (in Austria), W 5-1
Player You Should Know: DF Branislav Ivanovic, Zenit St Petersburg (RUS), 103 caps / 13 goals - Yes, the former Chelsea mainstay now plays in Russia and at 34 is among the veteran group combined with a few players from Serbia’s U19 Euro 2013 winning squad.
Player You Should Watch: FW Aleksandar Mitrovic, Newcastle Utd (ENG), 37 caps / 16 goals - The Golden Ball winner for Serbia on that fabled U19 team, Mitrovic played on loan with Fulham in 2018, scoring 12 goals in 17 games for the Cottagers. He could be one of the breakout stars of this World Cup.
Serbia is the darkhorse of this group because they are far better than their rankings might indicates. The Swiss defense might be able to handle Brazil a little better, but I think Serbia’s balance will carry the day in this group over the long run. The depth and youth behind a pretty solid starting lineup is perhaps a little inexperienced on this level but could Serbia give a team like Germany a good test in the Round of 16? I think so.
Head Coach: Vladimir Petkovic (SUI/CRO/BIH)
Rankings: FIFA 6 / ELO 14
Nicknames: Rossocrociati (Red Crosses), A-Team
Qualification: UEFA (Europe) Aggregate Playoff Win vs. Northern Ireland, 1-0
Appearance: 11th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (1934, 1938, 1954)
Recent Results: June 3, at Spain, D 1-1; June 8, vs Japan, W 2-0
Player You Should Know: DF Stephan Lichsteiner, Arsenal (ENG), 100 caps / 8 goals - Long time defender for Juventus, Lichsteiner is the captain and most capped player on the Swiss side for this World Cup.
Players You Should Watch: MFs Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, combined 132 caps / 29 goals - Pair of midfielders are just entering their primes and I think at some point will lead this team on a fairly deep knockout stage run.
The Swiss are a hard to team for me to analyze because I often think of them as a more defensive team which usually doesn’t fare as well in the group stages and is a style better suited for the knockout rounds. Yet, Switzerland dump my logic in it’s head by being very consistent in the group stages yet not being able to get over the hump and back into the quarterfinals. Xhaka and Shaqiri add perhaps just enough flash on this team to make them very dangerous in the Round of 16 if they get there, and I think they will.
There’s going to be a lot of very intense and entertaining games in this group, I really like the balance of styles here if Costa Rica gets on the counter a bit to scare everyone. You could flip Serbia or Switzerland for second and it wouldn’t surprise me, I think the SRB-SUI game will really decide second place unless Costa Rica starts pulling off wins. I think the Tico’s form leading up to this tournament defensively will let Navas down and Brazil will get back to the Semi-finals at least.
1) Brazil, 7 pts; 2) Switzerland, 5 pts; 3) Serbia, 2 pts; 4) Costa Rica, 1 pt