Costa Rica v Serbia, Sunday 17th June, 13:00
Costa Rica was the surprise packet of the 2014 FIFA World Cup but the Ticos do not look capable of getting out of Group E this time around, starting off with a likely loss when they tackle Serbia in Rostov-on-Don on Sunday.
Everything worked in Costa Rica’s favour four years ago, enabling the Ticos to top one of the toughest groups that also housed England, Italy and Uruguay. In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, each of Costa Rica’s opponents assumed the Ticos would roll over and have their tummy tickled and some of those teams – one is referring to you, England and Italy – did not do themselves justice on the pitch in any match. Costa Rica goalkeeper Kaylor Navas was one of the stars of the tournament, his performances bringing him to the attention of people who had not seen him excel regularly for Levante and earning him the transfer of a lifetime to Real Madrid.
In qualifying for its fourth FIFA World Cup out of the last five editions, Costa Rica had a 4-4-2 record in the final round of the CONCACAF preliminaries. But Costa Rica was 0-2-2 versus fellow FIFA World Cup qualifiers Mexico and Panama and the Ticos also failed to beat Honduras, which missed out on a spot in Russia after losing over two legs against Australia, which itself could not gain direct entry through the weak AFC section. Factor in Costa Rica’s recent friendly game losses to England (0-2) and Belgium (1-4) and it is easy to fear for the Ticos versus Serbia, not to mention Brazil and Sweden in their subsequent matches.
Serbia did really well to qualify for the FIFA World Cup as the winner of a UEFA pool featuring Austria, Ireland and Wales. Sure, none of Serbia’s UEFA Group D rivals is a real heavy hitter but each of them took part in UEFA Euro 2016 and, consequently, the Eagles did not have many easy games en route to Russia. Serbia lost just one of its ten UEFA Group D matches and that was due to Austria’s 89th-minute winner in the latter’s 3-2 home win over the former.
Sunday’s FIFA World Cup Group E game looks a good one for Serbia because of how it matches up against Costa Rica. Serbia’s midfield is one of the better ones on show in Russia and it should create chances for Newcastle striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, who had a field day in qualifying as the Eagles netted 20 goals and fired zero blanks. Serbia’s defence is not so good even though it features experienced campaigners Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov of Zenit and Roma respectively. Legitimate FIFA World Cup contenders will fancy scoring a few goals versus Serbia – probable first-choice goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic does not inspire confidence – but Costa Rica is not one of them and, moreover, the Ticos are not a dynamic attacking outfit. One toyed with the idea of tipping Serbia to win to nil versus Costa Rica but the Eagles do not keep many clean sheets and, besides, approximately even money seems fair enough about them winning the game, regardless of the overall score.
Brazil to Win Without Conceding a Goal against Toothless Switzerland
Brazil v Switzerland, Sunday 17th June, 19:00
Brazil versus Switzerland is Sunday’s other FIFA World Cup Group E match and it is one game in which one is keen to back the favourite to win without conceding a goal.
Damage limitation will be on the mind of a Switzerland team that will not want to write off its goal difference against Brazil and leave itself probably needing to beat both Costa Rica and Serbia to reach the FIFA World Cup knockout stage. The FIFA World Ranking rates Switzerland as the sixth best national side on the planet, which is frankly ludicrous and one of the biggest knocks on the entire list.
One is a huge fan of the World Football Elo Ratings and, according to its number crunchers, Switzerland is 14th, which is much more like it. However, Switzerland’s positions on both charts owes a lot to its ongoing knack of winning the matches that it is meant to win without exceeding expectations in the games for which it is unfancied. That Switzerland required a penalty-kick goal to account for Northern Ireland 1-0 on aggregate en route to the FIFA World Cup tells you so much more about it than its several other qualifying results.
Light on quality, Switzerland’s best chance of reaching the FIFA World Cup round of 16 will be to lose narrowly to Brazil before earning at least four points from its Group E matches against Serbia and Costa Rica later this month.