The 2018 World Cup opens in less than a month, on June 14, in Moscow. Here is what we can expect from Group E.
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Brazil: The Brazilians hope to redeem themselves after an embarrassing 7-1 home loss to Germany at the 2014 World Cup. They have won five World Cups, have a loaded roster, topped South America in qualifying and should make a deep run again. Superstar Neymar had foot surgery in March and hasn’t played since, but aims to be back. He was injured and didn’t play in the disastrous loss to Germany at the 2014 Cup, so he is highly motivated. The team is coached by Tite, and other top players include Casemiro (Real Madrid), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona). Dani Alves is out with a knee injury.
Costa Rica: It has hard to imagine the Ticos repeating their magical 2014 run, when they reached the quarterfinal before losing to the Dutch. But with Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas minding the net, anything is possible. Costa Rica beat the United States twice in qualifying and finished second behind Mexico. They are known for their defense, having allowed just eight goals in qualifying.
Serbia: The strength of the Serbian team is its creative midfield, led by Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic, Luka Mikivojevic (Crystal Palaca) and Sergij Mikinkovic-Savic (Lazio). Forward Aleksander Mitrovic had a big year at Fulham and can make life difficult for even the best back line.
Switzerland: Assuming Brazil wins the group, the battle for the second spot is among Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia. The Swiss reached the World Cup with the help of a controversial free kick but have a good enough team to pull off a surprise or two. Watch for AC Milan’s Ricardo Rodriguez, and Stoke’s Xhenlang Shaqiri.
Prediction: Brazil wins the group, Costa Rica finishes second.