Manuel Veth –
Several World Cup teams have now announced their preliminary World Cup squads, and with the tournament kicking off in less than a month it is time to look ahead to the group stage of the tournament. Up next is our World Cup Group E preview.
Costa Rica (Concacaf)
Group E team by team breakdown:
Brazil have successfully rebuilt from the disastrous 2014 FIFA World Cup collapse in the semi-final against Germany. Coached by the popular Tite the Seleção dominated the CONMEBOL qualification group finishing first with 41 points from 18 games – ten points more than second-placed Uruguay.
The 57-year-old Tite is the architect of the current Brazilian side and has managed to overcome the trauma of the 7-1 defeat to Germany. Tite was long overlooked as a potential head coach of the Brazilian national team despite his successes in Brazil with the country’s biggest club Corinthians.
In June 2016 he was finally put in charge of the national team after another lacklustre performance by Brazil at a tournament – Brazil were eliminated at the group stage of the Copa América Centenario. As a result, Tite was put in charge and Brazil have been a dominant force ever since.
The only country to have taken part at every World Cup Brazil will be once again among the favourites to win the World Cup. As a result, Group E, where they will face Switzerland, Costa Rica and Serbia, will be just a stepping stone for the Seleção.
Players to watch:
Everything will depend on Neymar’s fitness. It is now understood that the Paris Saint-Germain star will be able to play at the tournament. But will he reach match fitness in time to help Brazil achieve their lofty goals? Should Neymar fail to make an impact, however, Brazil have plenty of other talented forwards that can step in to fill the void. Players to watch include Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino. Also look out for Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred, who could be moving to a big league after the tournament caps off at the Luzhniki on July 15. Another player in the spotlight will be Roma’s Alisson, who has been one of the best keepers on the continent this season.
Goalkeepers: Alisson (Roma), Ederson (Manchester City), Cassio (Corinthians)
Defenders: Danilo (Manchester City), Fagner (Corinthians), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Silva, Marquinhos (both Paris St-Germain), Miranda (Inter Milan) Pedro Geromel (Gremio)
Midfielders: Casemiro (Real Madrid), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Paulinho (Barcelona), Fred (Shakhtar Donetsk), Renato Augusto (Beijing Guoan), Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona), Willian (Chelsea), Douglas Costa (Juventus)
Forwards: Neymar Jr (Paris St-Germain), Taison (Shakhtar Donetsk), Gabriel Jesus (Manchester City), Roberto Firmino (Liverpool)
Switzerland might be one of the dark horses at this summer’s tournament. The Nati have now qualified for nine World Cups and will be at the world’s most significant event for the fifth time in a row.
Placed in Group B of European qualifying the Nati finished second after winning nine out of ten qualification games. A final day defeat to Portugal, who also won nine out of ten, meant that Switzerland had to face Northern Ireland in the playoffs. The Swiss, however, got the job done in the most efficient matter winning 1-0 on aggregate (0-1, 0-0).
Those two results sum up Switzerland’s play at the moment. The Swiss national team are a talented side but at the same time are very efficient when it comes to grinding out results. Nonetheless, they were placed in a difficult group and together with Costa Rica and Serbia will battle for second place in Group E at this summer’s World Cup.
Players to watch:
Switzerland will send a talented squad to next summer’s World Cup that will include several interesting names. In defence, Manuel Akanji is one of Europe’s most interesting defenders. The former Basel defender was hunted by several European top clubs last winter before ultimately signing for Borussia Dortmund. In midfield Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is the head of the die Eidgenossen and in attack look out for Breel Embolo, who was Schalke’s record signing in the summer of 2016.
Goalkeepers: Roman Bürki (Borussia Dortmund), Yvon Mvogo (Leipzig), Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Defenders: Manuel Akanji (Borussia Dortmund), Johan Djourou (Antalyaspor), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Jacques-Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (Milan), Fabian Schaer (Deportivo La Coruna).
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Udinese), Blerim Dzemaili (Bologna), Gelson Fernandes (Eintracht Frankfurt), Remo Freuler (Atalanta), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Steven Zuber (1899 Hoffenheim), Denis Zakaria (Borussia Mönchengladbach).
Forwards: Josip Drmic (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Breel Embolo (Schalke), Mario Gavranovic (Dinamo Zagreb), Haris Seferovic (Benfica).
Costa Rica are back at the World Cup once again. The Los Ticos qualified for their fourth World Cup overall after finishing first in Group B in the fourth round of Concacaf qualifying ahead of Panama, Haiti and Jamaica. They then finished second in the Hexagonal (as the final Concacaf qualification stage is called) behind Mexico but ahead of Panama, Honduras, the United States and Trinidad and Tobago.
Costa Rica are indeed a powerhouse of Concacaf, and the growth of football in the northern hemisphere of the Americas was demonstrated by Costa Rica’s quarterfinal appearance at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Ultimately Los Ticos were stopped by the Netherlands after a full 120 minutes of play and a dramatic penalty shootout.
Costa Rica would love to repeat the success of four years ago this summer. But Group E will be challenging to navigate and with Brazil set to finish first Costa Rica will be battling Serbia and Switzerland for second place.
Players to watch:
Real Madrid keeper Keylor Navas is the country’s biggest star. The keeper won his third Champions League title in a row with Real Madrid in May. He was also the star of Los Ticos at the 2014 World Cup as his saves carried the team to the later stages of the tournament. But Costa Rica are much more than just Keylor Navas. In defence, Kendall Waston has been a rock for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Major League Soccer. In midfield, Bryan Ruiz brings the experience of 107 national team games, and up front, the world is still awaiting the breakthrough of talented forward Joel Campbell.
Goalkeepers: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid), Patrick Pemberton (Liga Deportiva Alajuelense), Leonel Moreira (CS Herediano)
Defenders: Cristian Gamboa (Celtic), Ian Smith (Santos de Guapiles), Ronald Matarrita (New York City), Bryan Oviedo (Sunderland), Oscar Duarte (Espanyol), Giancarlo Gonzalez (Bologna), Francisco Calvo (Minnesota United), Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps), Johnny Acosta (Rionegro Aguilas)
Midfielders: David Guzman (Portland Timbers), Yeltsin Tejeda (Lausanne-Sport), Celso Borges (Deportivo La Coruna), Randall Azofeifa (CS Herediano), Rodney Wallace (New York City), Bryan Ruiz (Sporting Lisbon), Daniel Colindres, Christian Bolanos (both Deportivo Saprissa)
Forwards: Johan Venegas (Deportivo Saprissa), Joel Campbell (Real Betis), Marco Urena (Los Angeles FC)
Serbia are back at the World Cup after finishing the UEFA qualification Group D in first place ahead of Ireland, Wales, Austria, Georgia and Moldova. Two points ahead of Ireland the Orlovi managed to navigate a difficult group stage, but at the same time, not all was well in Serbian football as the Football Association of Serbia fired Slavoljub Muslin after successfully qualifying for the tournament.
Muslin was ultimately replaced by former Bundesliga defender Mladen Krstajić, who is now in charge of guiding the country at the World Cup. Officially, considered the successor of the old Yugoslav Football Federation Serbia can claim to have taken part at 12 World Cups.
Serbia in its current political form have qualified for three out of four possible World Cups. As a completely independent single state entity, Serbia have never managed to get beyond the group stage and given the makeup of Group D Serbia will have a hard time to improve on their past results.
Players to watch:
Krstajić had 50 players to pick from ahead of the World Cup. Serbia without a doubt will bring a very talented side to Russia. Among the players to watch will be defender Aleksandar Kolarov, who turned heads with Roma in this season’s Champions League. The backline in the meantime will be led by Branislav Ivanović (Zenit). The 34-year-old will be without a doubt the leader of the squad in Russia. In midfield Manchester United enforcer Nemanja Matić will be the player to watch. Furthermore, keep an eye on Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić, who is in the notebooks of several European top clubs for this summer’s transfer market. Finally, Eintracht Frankfurt’s Luka Jović has finally gotten his career on track under Eintracht head coach Niko Kovac.
Goalkeepers: Vladimir Stojkovic (Partizan Belgrade), Predrag Rajkovic (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Marko Dmitrovic (Eibar).
Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Roma), Branislav Ivanovic (Zenit St Petersburg), Dusko Tosic (Guangzhou R&F), Antonio Rukavina (Villarreal), Milos Veljkovic (Werder Bremen), Milan Rodic (Red Star Belgrade), Uros Spajic (Krasnodar), Nikola Milenkovic (Fiorentina).
Midfielders: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United), Luka Milivojevic (Crystal Palace), Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio), Marko Grujic (Liverpool), Adem Ljajic (Torino), Dusan Tadic (Southampton), Filip Kostic (Hamburg), Andrija Zivkovic (Benfica), Nemanja Radonjic (Red Star Belgrade).
Strikers: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United), Aleksandar Prijovic (PAOK Salonika), Luka Jovic (Benfica).
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and among others works for the Bundesliga and Pro Soccer USA. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which is available HERE. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.