MX23RW : Thursday, February 21 08:51:09

Preview: Serbia vs. Brazil - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole provides team news, predicted lineups and a full match preview of the crucial World Cup Group E clash between leaders Brazil and third-placed Serbia.

Group E at the 2018 World Cup will come to a head on Wednesday with three teams still in with a chance of qualifying for the last 16.

Two of those teams will face off at the Otkritie Arena when leaders Brazil host third-placed Serbia, with the pre-tournament favourites knowing that they simply have to avoid defeat to progress.


Serbia's players celebrate scoring in the international friendly against Bolivia on June 9, 2018© Reuters

The task for Serbia on Wednesday is straightforward, but achieving it against a team like Brazil will be far from easy.

The Eagles may have been encouraged by Brazil's underwhelming form so far at this World Cup, but they are now left in a position where they will likely need to beat the five-time world champions to progress.

A draw would be enough should Switzerland lose to Costa Rica by two or more goals, but the Swiss are favourites in that match against the already-eliminated Central Americans and will name a full-strength team in order to ensure their own progress.

Victory would guarantee their place in the last 16 for the very first time as an independent nation, though, adding even more weight to what would be a famous triumph in any scenario.

Aleksandar Kolarov's stunning strike got Serbia's campaign off to an ideal start with victory over Costa Rica, and they would have been well on course for the last 16 had they held out against Switzerland in their second match.

A draw against the Swiss would have left them joint-top of the group on four points with Brazil, but Xherdan Shaqiri's 90th-minute winner ensured that they dropped down to third place, with just one point now separating those top three.

In their former guise as Yugoslavia, Serbia qualified from the group stages of a World Cup three out of four times after winning their opening game - doing so in 1930, 1954 and 1998 - but the odds are now against them to achieve the same feat this summer.

Key to overcoming those odds will be keeping Brazil's attackers quiet; Serbia have lost each of the six previous World Cup matches in which they have conceded as an independent nation, while winning the two in which they have kept a clean sheet.

Mladen Krstajic's side will also be hoping for more favourable refereeing decisions to give them every chance of progressing, and with top spot in Group E still available to the Eagles - albeit an unlikely option - Serbia could approach the game with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Recent form: WL
Recent form (all competitions): LWLWWL


Brazil manager Tite on June 3, 2018© Reuters

In a World Cup of so many twists and turns, it is perhaps not too surprising that plenty of teams have so far outshone the pre-tournament favourites.

With just one defeat in 21 games under Tite prior to the tournament, Brazil were heavily fancied to lift the trophy for a sixth time - and a first since 2002 - but many may have revised their view after their opening two games.

That said, the Selecao are yet to get out of first gear in Russia and still find themselves on the brink of the last 16, needing simply to avoid defeat to guarantee their place in the knockout rounds.

Brazil have only once been knocked out in the group stages in World Cup history - when Pele and co were unceremoniously kicked out of the competition as defending champions by some roughhouse treatment from their opponents - and a draw would be enough for them to extend that streak on Wednesday.

Top spot is still very much up for grabs, though, and there is a possible scenario where it could be decided on fair play should both Brazil and Switzerland win their final group games.

Brazil are currently one ahead of Switzerland on goal difference, but should Switzerland make that up and score the same number of goals as Brazil then the number of yellow cards they have received throughout the tournament could be taken into account. The same method would also be used to decide second and third place if both teams lose and end up with identical goal difference and goals scored.

Cynics may suggest that runners-up would be a better place to finish as things stand, with Germany trailing Mexico in Group F and so providing the most likely opposition for the group winners.

However, Brazil could also be licking their lips at exacting some World Cup revenge on the defending champions following their semi-final humiliation on home soil four years ago, and they are a team that are used to being feared rather than fearing whom they may come up against.

Tite's sides's performances will not have struck too much fear into many teams so far though; a 1-1 opening draw with Switzerland was followed up by a late victory over Costa Rica, when they needed stoppage-time goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar to salvage a 2-0 triumph.

The Selecao are unbeaten in 13 games during which they have conceded just three goals, though, and Tite remains happy with his side's style despite managing just one shot on target in the first half of each World Cup game so far.

Whether that gameplan will need to change on Wednesday night remains to be seen, but Brazil have surprisingly only won one of their last seven World Cup games against European opposition, so there could be hope for Serbia - and further World Cup despair for Brazil - ahead.

Recent form: DW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWDW

Team News

Brazil's Philippe Coutinho celebrates scoring their first goal in the match against Switzerland on June 17, 2018© Reuters

Brazil will be without Douglas Costa for this match due to a hamstring injury, while Danilo has also been ruled out with a thigh problem.

Tite could still name an unchanged team from the win over Costa Rica, though, which would give Coutinho the chance to extend his run of scoring in three successive games for his country.

Neymar's goal against Costa Rica saw him move into sole control of third position in the list of Brazil's all-time top scorers, and he has now had a hand in 18 goals from his last 17 international outings.

Serbia have their own in-form forward in Aleksandar Mitrovic, who has netted 18 times in 26 games for club and country so far this calendar year.

Mitrovic is one of six Serbians to be one booking away from suspension, although Krstajic is still expected to name a strong starting lineup in a bid to reach the last 16.

Serbia possible starting lineup:
Stojkovic; Rukavina, Ivanovic, Tosic, Kolarov; Matic, Milivojevic, Milinkovic-Savic, Tadic, Kostic; Mitrovic

Brazil possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Fagner, Miranda, Thiago Silva, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho; Willian, Philippe Coutinho, Neymar; Gabriel Jesus

Head To Head

Including Yugoslavia, this will be the fifth World Cup meeting between these two nations, with the head-to-head record level at one win apiece and two draws.

Indeed, these two sides met in their first ever World Cup outings in 1930, with Yugoslavia coming out on top in that match.

That is one of only two wins for Yugoslavia or Serbia in 19 previous meetings, with Brazil winning 10 of those, although they have only met once with Serbia as an independent nation - a 1-0 triumph for Brazil in 2014.

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We say: Serbia 1-3 Brazil

Serbia have little option but to attack Brazil at some point, unless news comes through of a shock scoreline in the other game. That could play into the hands of the Selecao, who will be expected to get the better of an open game with the attacking quality at their disposal.

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Who will win Wednesday's World Cup Group E clash between Serbia and Brazil?

Serbia manager Mladen Krstajic on March 23, 2018
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