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Group E Preview & Tips: Brazil clear favourites to finish top ahead of Switzerland
Brazil are favoured to win Group E but the Seleção will need to be wary of Switzerland, with unpredictable Serbia and Costa Rica likely to struggle
Brazil's players after defeating Germany 1-0 in Berlin (Patrik Stollarz/AFP/Getty Images)
2018 World Cup Group E Preview & Tips
Brazil are clear favourites to win Group E ahead of Switzerland, Serbia and Costa Rica. The five time World Cup winners appear in strong shape under Tite but Switzerland could provide a tough test first up. The Swiss are well placed to qualify for the knockout stage with Serbia recently sacking their manager while Costa Rica’s time could be up after a strong showing in Brazil four years ago.
The five-time World Cup winners have appeared in every tournament since 1930 and are always among the favourites. The 2014 World Cup on home soil ended in disaster after a 7-1 semi-final thrashing at the hands of Germany, with many Seleção supporters hoping that particular capitulation was simply a result of too much pressure and expectation from a football mad nation.
Brazil were struggling under former manager Dunga, but since Tite took over they have lost once in 19 matches, scoring 42 goals and conceding just five. South American qualification was a breeze as Canarinha finished 10 points ahead of second-placed Uruguay and a recent 1-0 friendly win against Germany will do their confidence a world of good.
Tite has managed to make Brazil difficult to break down with an organised and settled defence, a strong a resilient midfield while retaining the attacking flair we have come to expect. The big question is whether Neymar will be fully fit for Russia. He will be vital to their chances of success but the squad still possesses enough talent to go all the way.
Brazil’s squad is significantly stronger than the previous two World Cups. Fred and Jo anyone? There are stars all over the pitch and depth in every position, in addition to versatility which allows Tite to adjust his tactics depending on the situation and opposition. It goes without saying that Brazil should win Group E with relative ease, with odds of 1.30 reflecting that conclusion.
Switzerland have featured in 10 previous World Cups but never managed to get past the quarter-finals. They reached the round of 16 in Brazil before losing 1-0 against Argentina. The Swiss won nine of their 10 games in qualifying but finished behind Portugal on goal difference, eventually overcoming Northern Ireland in a tense play-off courtesy of a controversial penalty in the first leg.
Manager Vladimir Petkovic took charge after Brazil 2014, guiding his team to the round of 16 at Euro 2016 where they were eliminated by Poland in a penalty shootout. His squad is experienced and settled with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez, Blerim Dzemaili, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri leading the way with emerging youngsters Manuel Akanji and Breel Embolo.
Switzerland are currently ranked 8th in the FIFA World Ranking, one spot above France and one behind Spain. Group E is going to be incredibly tough and an opening game against Brazil will severely test the Swiss. They certainly have an edge against Costa Rica in terms of technical ability, but they are extremely similar to Serbia which makes Group E very difficult to predict.
Serbia, formerly known as Yugoslavia and FR of Yugoslavia, reached the World Cup in 2010 but failed to qualify for Brazil 2014. The White Eagles failed to qualify for the last three major tournaments but got their act together for Russia 2018, losing just one game and finishing top of their group which included the Republic of Ireland, Wales, and Austria.
Former manager Slavoljub Muslin was controversially sacked after securing Serbia’s place in Russia after being criticised for defensive tactics and questionable team selections. 44-year-old rookie manager Mladen Krstajic took over in January and only time will tell if he can get the best out of an experienced and talented squad.
Defenders Branislav Ivanovic and captain Aleksandar Kolarov provide leadership alongside Nemanja Matic and Dusan Tadic. Serbia’s strength could come from a big and strong central midfield, with Matic joined by Luka Milivojevic and Lazio’s emerging 23-year-old star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Striker Aleksandar Mitrovic has been in solid form for Fulham in the Championship, but with a rookie manager in Krstajic and a difficult group, Serbia may need things to go their way if they are to reach the knockout stage in Russia.
Costa Rica were one of the feel good stories in Brazil 2014 as they finished top of their group which included Uruguay and European heavyweights Italy and England. Los Ticos then edged past Greece in a penalty shootout before suffering the same fate against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, when Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal famously substituted in Tim Krul specifically to face the spot kicks.
Costa Rica qualified for their fifth World Cup since 1990 after finishing second behind Mexico. They won four of their 10 games including two wins against the United States but failed to win against Mexico, Panama and Honduras. Manager Óscar Ramírez has been in charge since 2015 and could face an uphill battle to get his team out of the group.
His squad is one of the oldest and experienced in Russia with most of his expected starting lineup having made more than 60 international appearances. Led by captain Bryan Ruíz, Celso Borges and Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Los Ticos will rely on hard work, frustrating their opponents and hitting them on the counter-attack.
Brazil are obvious candidates to win Group E but will need to be wary of a strong and organised Switzerland and offer no value at 1.30. Serbia have a good squad on paper but could lack goal scoring threat while Costa Rica’s time might be up after an unconvincing qualification campaign where they won four of their 10 games.
Qualify from Group E: Switzerland at 2.00
Finish bottom of Group E: Costa Rica at 1.85