They are always favourites before a World Cup starts and the previous edition of the tournament showed the risk that runs behind making these kind of assumptions (7-1, anyone?). But there is good reason to consider Brazil as a genuine contender this time. It could be argued that Brazil, on paper at least, have the best side in the tournament. Their riches start from the goalkeeper. Ederson was practically the only custodian in the Premier League who was as consistently good as David de Gea and a driving force behind Manchester City’s astonishing success. And yet, there is every chance that he will find himself on the bench for a good part of the tournament with Roma’s Allison taking up the number 1 jersey. Marquinhos, Joao Miranda and Thiago Silva make up the options for the two centre-back positions. Their midfield consists of Casemiro and Paulinho to shield the defence while the likes of Douglas Costa, Willian and Renato Augusto are all capable of providing assistance on to the front line. Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Coutinho, Gabriel Jesus are all proven threats in front of goal. Even a single loss in the group stage for Brazil will be an upset.
A lack of cohesion in the dressing room looks like the only factor that could prevent Serbia from going through to the next round. They sacked Slavoljub Muslin, who was manager of the team during their qualification campaign and under new manager Mladen Krstajic, the captain’s armband has gone from Branislav Ivanovic to Aleksander Kolarov. Apart from these two factors, they have a very compact squad that has a perfect blend of experience and youth and play a solid 4-2-3-1. Provided the change in personnel at the helm doesn’t have a negative effect, Serbia aside from Brazil are favourites to progress to the next round.
Switzerland and Portugal were the only teams that were expected to qualify in what was an easy group and, as was expected, the Swiss came second to the European champions. Their playoff was against Northern Ireland, whom they beat 1-0 over two legs to progress. Shalke’s Breel Embolo and Stoke City and soon to be Liverpool midfielder Xherdhan Shaqiri are the two goal scorers and much of their attack will be centered around these two.
Captain and goalkeeper Keylor Navas is the only player who can be termed as world-class in this squad and therein lies the problem for Costa Rica. They have an experienced squad though, with just four players aged less than 25. Costa Rica have shown a tendency to start matches with a 3-4-3 that changes into a 5-4-1 as it progresses. Costa Rica are clear underdogs in the group and much of their chances rest upon how good a day Navas would be having in goal.