Group E Preview: Ticos boast experience but Brazil is clear favorite

Brazil looks like a shoo-in to top Group E, which promises a tight battle for second place between an experienced Costa Rica, a balanced Switzerland, and a Serbian team that topped its qualifying group.

After a Cinderella run at the 2014 World Cup, Los Ticos have only five players on their roster with fewer than 30 caps. Twelve players return from the 2014 quarterfinalists who defeated Italy and Uruguay and tied England in Brazil’s group of death.

Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, who scored twice in the Ticos' 4-0 win over the USA in qualifying, spearhead the attack. But the Ticos underwhelmed in its last two friendlies, losses against England (2-0) and Belgium (4-1). Costa Rica's defense, backed by Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, must perform at its best to set up its counterattacks.

Switzerland brings a balanced team to Russia with plenty of top-level playing experience. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka complements Udinese’s enforcer Valon Behrami in the midfield. Benfica’s Haris Seferovic netted seven goals in 29 appearances in all competitions. Basel’s Albian Ajeti was Switzerland’s top-flight Golden Boot winner.

Serbia returns to the World Cup after missing out in Brazil. Similarly to 2010, it finished on top of its qualifying group, but that’s where they hope the similarities will end: it finished rock bottom in the 2010 World Cup in a group made up of Germany, Ghana and Australia. Serbia boasts the group’s second best midfield, stacked with Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic, Crystal Palace’s captain Luka Milivojevic, Southampton’s Dusan Tadic, and Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

And then there’s Brazil. The five-time world champion boasts one of the best squads of the tournament and Neymar looks to have recovered well after a three-month injury layoff. Excellent from goalkeeper to striker, for Brazil not to win this group would be a huge upset. And after the debacle of 2014, hunger and determination won’t be a problem. An experienced defense, a midfield that could chew anything thrown at it, and a star-studded offense makes Brazil a favorite to win the whole thing, let alone their group.

Our Picks: 1. Brazil. 2. Serbia. 3. Switzerland. 4. Costa Rica.

Group E Schedule
June 17 Costa Rica vs. Serbia, Samara (8 am ET, Fox, Telemundo)
June 17 Brazil vs. Switzerland, Rostov (2 pm ET, FS1, Telemundo)
June 22 Brazil vs. Costa Rica, St. Petersburg (8 am ET, FS1, Telemundo)
June 22 Serbia vs. Switzerland, Kaliningrad (2 pm ET, Fox, Telemundo)
June 27 Serbia vs. Brazil, Spartak Stadium, Moscow (2 pm ET, *Fox, Telemundo)
June 27 Switzerland vs. Costa Rica, Nizhny Novgorod (2 pm ET, *FS1, Universo)
* Network assignment subject to change.

World Cup: Complete Rosters

The Entertainers
The combination of Neymar, Coutinho and Marcelo should satisfy Selecao fans' appetite for jogo bonito. Switzerland's Xherdan Shaqiri is a living highlight reel. The diminutive midfielder scored one of the best goals of the 2014 World Cup and will provide his team creativity with his terrific dribbling skills and link-up play.
Breakout Player
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a 6-foot-3 tempo-dictating center midfielder who’s been linked to Manchester United, Juventus, and Liverpool after a breakout season with Lazio will look to do serious damage in front of the opposition’s box. Great in tight spaces in betrayal to his big frame, the 23-year-old reminds some of Paul Pogba with his passing and shooting ability.

U.S. Connection
Costa Rica’s roster includes six MLS players and three former MLS players. The current MLS players are Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Ronald Matarrita (New York City FC), Marco Urena (LAFC) and NYCFC’s Rodney Wallace, who won the 2008 NCAA Division I title with Maryland. The former MLSers in the Ticos’ squad: Christian Bolanos, Giancarlo González, Johan Venegas.

Brazil is the only team from the Americas to win the World Cup on another continent, having lifted its first World Cup in Sweden in 1958 and its fifth in South Korea in 2002.

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