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World Cup Group E: With or without Neymar, Brazil must handle Costa Rica

Friday 22nd June 2018

Brazil wasn't at destructive best against Switzerland. Talisman Neymar was most culpable. Philippe Coutinho took up the mantle, but his superbly curled effort proved not enough. The Selecao will be out to show their opening draw with the Europeans was a mere blip when they face Costa Rica on Friday afternoon.  

Los Ticos, meanwhile, fell to Aleksandar Kolarov's thunderbolt free-kick. They were the only Group E team which failed to hit the target in the first set of matches. Against a star-studded South American line-up, Costa Rica will have to better scoring just one goal from their last 31 shots in the World Cup.

The odds are firmly stacked against them, however. Brazil have lost only once in 10 previous meetings, with the most recent a friendly in 2015. The two sides have met twice at this level (1990, 2002). The record five-time champions triumphed on both occasions. 

Brazil and Costa Rica each realise outright defeat could spell an early end to their Russian sojourn. 

Brazil

FIFA Ranking: 2nd

It's been three long matches and nearly four years since the Samba Boys tasted a World Cup victory. A hard-fought 2-1 win over Colombia was followed by humiliating defeats to Germany and Netherlands, then their recent Swiss stalemate. With the magical Tite in charge, however, that run should soon end.   

Under the former Gremio boss, Brazil have lost just once in 22 games. They picked up 17 victories along the way, conceding only one goal. The Selecao ooze quality in every aspect. Even should Neymar not feature, Douglas Costa is a capable deputy.     

A major selection headache for Tite is whether to persevere with Gabriel Jesus or hand Roberto Firmino a start. Jesus, the first-choice striker during qualifying, was rather ineffective against Switzerland. Firmino's pace and positioning, meanwhile, ignited the missing spark during the final 11 minutes. 

Trust the orthodox Tite to deploy the same eleven against Costa Rica.

Predicted starting XI: Alisson; Danilo, Thiago Silva, Miranda, Marcelo; Casemiro, Paulinho, Coutinho; Willian, Neymar, Jesus.

Costa Rica

FIFA Ranking: 23rd

Los Ticos appear to have misplaced their mojo, one which assisted them in Brazil four years ago. Perhaps former coach Jorge Luis Pinto returned to Honduras with it. The Central Americans enjoyed a fairy-tale run, advancing to the quarter-finals after navigating a tough group consisting of England, Italy and Uruguay. 

Even though Costa Rica endured a miserable run-in to Russia, the fact they've not lost back-to-back World Cup matches in 14 years should offer confidence.  

In Germany 12 years ago, Los Ticos lost all three group games against the hosts, Poland and Ecuador. They have improved immensely in more recent editions, though. 

There are no injury concerns for manager Oscar Ramirez. Joel Campbell is expected to start in place of the unproductive Francisco Calvo. The Arsenal wanderer will inject pace and bite into an utterly toothless attack. Other than that, the 53-year-old tactician is likely to name an unchanged line-up.   

Predicted starting XI: Navas; Acosta, Gonzalez, Duarte; Gamboa, Borges, Guzman, Campbell; Ruiz, Venegas, Urena.

Prediction

Twenty-one places separate both sides on the FIFA Rankings. This World Cup has produced a few upsets so far, but Costa Rica won't provide another. Brazil will be too strong. 

Neymar has a great chance to open his account. If Selecao break the early deadlock, then anticipate the floodgates to open. 

Toby Prince

If the sport has 11-men on each side, a ball and lasts for 90 minutes then I'll write about it. Simply put, I'm an unrepentant soccer freak that other freaks will, however, call a geek. I do find time for music when not watching the beautiful game, though and have been known to produce the odd track. 


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