World Cup Group E: Serbia stinging from loss to Swiss now face Neymar and Coutinho with tournament on the line
Before the tournament got underway, Brazil were favourites to go all the way and lift the World Cup. However, after stumbling to a draw in their first outing against Switzerland, all the pressure was on them as they geared up to face Costa Rica. Thanks to a pair of late goals from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar, the South American side now sits joint-top of Group E with four points (alongside Switzerland).
Serbia will be absolutely kicking themselves. After beating Costa Rica 1-0 in their opener, they forced an early lead in their second game against Switzerland. However, their opponents battled back valiantly and stole it with an injury-time winner from Xherdan Shaqiri. Right now, Serbia sits on three points; third in their group. That leaves Mladen Krstajić's men in a precarious position. They'll probably require victory against Brazil to progress into the last sixteen, as they won't be expecting anything other than a Swiss victory in the other Group E fixture.
Surprisingly, the two sides have only met once in international football. The game took place in June 2014 in a pre-World Cup friendly. Then-hosts Brazil won that game 1-0, thanks to a goal from Fred.
A big-game needs the big occasion, hence why this fixture will take place in Russia's capital. The 45,000-capacity Spartak Moscow Stadium is gearing itself up for an eagerly-anticipated fixture in which the winner takes it all.
FIFA Ranking: 34th
Thankfully for Serbia, they've no players on the treatment table, with Krstajić having a fully-fit squad to choose from, and they'll likely pack the midfield in their preferred 4-3-3 formation. Nemanja Matic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Luka Milivojevic is a trio that'll strike fear into the eyes of Paulinho and company.
Last time out, Filip Kostic got the start ahead of Adam Ljajic, but it's fair to say the former didn't grasp his opportunity whatsoever, so don't be surprised to see the latter come back into the team. On the opposite flank, Dusan Tadic will once again be tasked to pull the strings. We all know how much Marcelo loves to bomb forward, so the Southampton man should get space aplenty to cause damage.
Then you have Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the line. He was an absolute colossus against Switzerland and he certainly deserved to be on the winning side. Against Brazil's ageing centre-halves, this lad could have a field day; provided he turns up in the mood, because we all know how inconsistent the Fulham forward can be.
FIFA Ranking: 2nd
Although they've not been great, the good thing for Tite is that he has an immensely deep squad; meaning he can make changes aplenty if he so chooses. The Samba star, to this point, has been FC Barcelona's Coutinho. The playmaker has scored in both games, while also proving to be a constant threat due to his underrated movement and incisive passing. He should be the first name on the team-sheet.
Neymar did score against Costa Rica, but his performance as a whole was hardly inspiring. With that said, the Paris Saint-Germain man is never going to get dropped. He'll start once again, but his support-cast could be significantly different. Liverpool fans have been calling for a Roberto Firmino start, I think they're going to get their wish, with Gabriel Jesus dropping to the bench. If I were Tite, I'd also seriously consider dropping Willian; he was awful last time out, but with Costa out injured, he may get another chance.
The rest of the team will likely remain the same. Brazil fans would have been hoping to see Danilo back in on the right-hand side of defence but he's still injured. That'll mean Fagner will continue to play.
This match definitely intrigues. Unsurprisingly, Brazil are the firm favourites, but I expect it to be much closer than people think. Both teams have looked good in patches without stringing together the complete, 90-minute performance. However, the South Americans do have a significant advantage in terms of player quality. They have star players like Neymar and Coutinho who can come up with the spectacular.
Serbia will fight to the death, I wouldn't be surprised to see them score, either. I don't think it'll be enough, though. Brazil will win 2-1, and unless Switzerland absolutely blitzes Costa Rica, Tite's boys should top the group.