Brazil v Costa Rica, Friday 22nd June, 13:00
Costa Rica has regressed significantly since reaching the 2014 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals and, after demonstrating limited ambition against Serbia in its opening Group E game this year, one cannot see the Ticos extending Brazil when they face the title favourite in St Petersburg on Friday.
With Brazil and FIFA’s sixth-ranked team, Switzerland, to follow in World Cup Group E it was baffling to see Costa Rica not go for broke versus Serbia after they fell behind 11 minutes into the second half. Costa Rica’s game plan of containment did not appear to change and, while nervousness on Serbia’s part allowed the Ticos to make their way up the pitch in the dying minutes, never did one really think that they were going to cancel out Aleksandar Kolarov’s free-kick goal that he scored with his university-educated left foot.
Costa Rica qualified for the FIFA World Cup without pulling up any trees, failing to beat fellow Russia visitors Mexico and Panama during the final CONCACAF round, colloquially known as The Hexagon because it features six sides. Costa Rica’s squad is the second oldest in the FIFA World Cup and it would seem that the Ticos are well past their best-before date, with Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas standing out as their star performer. Navas was his usual excellent self against Serbia and he is likely to be busy versus Brazil.
It is Costa Rica’s worst nightmare that Brazil rocks up in St Petersburg having not defeated Switzerland in the first set of FIFA World Cup Group E matches. Brazil cannot afford a second faux pas, each of its last two games against Costa Rica – the latest of which took place in September 2015 – resulted in a 1-0 victory for the CONMEBOL superpower and the odds available about another win to nil are attractive. Back Brazil to beat Costa Rica without conceding a goal, an outcome that would eliminate the Ticos from the FIFA World Cup prior to their Group E match versus Switzerland.
Serbia to Score First against Switzerland
Serbia v Switzerland, Friday 22nd June, 19:00
One suspects that Switzerland’s FIFA World Cup Group E draw with Brazil will lead it the Red Crosses to approach their Kaliningrad game against Serbia with unnecessary caution and that, ultimately, may prove their undoing. Switzerland, which was ruthless in its physical tactics versus Brazil, will fancy its chance of getting the better of Costa Rica and, therefore, the Red Crosses would welcome as little as one point from their match against Serbia. One thinks that Switzerland will set out its stall to frustrate Serbia instead of attacking the Eagles and placing their poor defence under pressure from the opening whistle.
The best bet in Friday’s FIFA World Cup Group E game between Serbia and Switzerland is to back the former to score the first goal and to have a stake-saving wager on no goal. One rates Serbia’s midfield as one of the best in the tournament and, while Sergej Milinkovic-Savic looks like the pick of the Eagles schemers, he is not their only creative force and Switzerland may struggle to shut down all of them. If one was Switzerland boss Mladen Krstajic then one would throw caution to the wind versus Serbia because the Eagles have not kept many clean sheets recently and even Costa Rica had its moments. Take a punt on Switzerland’s mentality against Serbia being overly negative when, if the Red Crosses had lost to Brazil first time out, they would have had to play positively in their second FIFA World Cup Group E match.