Who? Serbia - Brazil
Where? Otkritie Arena, Moscow
When? June 27, 20:00 (CET local time)
Serbia (Eden Roitfarb)
It seems that since losing to Switzerland, the Serbian national team is dealing mainly with politics rather than football. In case you live under a rock, here is a quick reminder: Serbia faced a Swiss team full of players with roots in former Yugoslavia – mainly from Kosovar descent. Two of them, Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri, have scored and celebrated by marking the Albanian double eagle gesture. In the aftermath, the Serbian FA called for both players to be banned for the political provocation and even made an official complaint to FIFA. An even more controversial statement was made by coach Mladen Krstajić, who tried to talk football and complained about the outrageous non-penalty call that involved Aleksandar Mitrovic and two Swiss defenders but ended up calling for German referee Felix Brych to be tried in The Hague tribunal for war crimes. He himself can face sanctions from FIFA for this slip up.
After this loss, Serbia are in a do or die situation, and there is no worse opponent to face at this point than Brazil. To put it very simply, Serbia are in a “win and in” situation that can even put them in first place in a certain scenario. A draw and they depend on Costa Rica to beat Switzerland in order to have a chance through a tiebreaker. Brazil struggle heavily with European opponents since the 2014 World Cup, and Serbia would count on that fact to try and do the unthinkable. Both teams have a rich history and met regularly in the first World Cups, when Serbia where still known as Yugoslavia, but the Balkan’s only win came at the first ever tournament in 1930 – a win that also helped knock out the Brazilians from the group stage, and what a story it would be if Serbia would recreate this history.
Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)
The only feeling that the Brazilians felt minutes after the final whistle of the game against Costa Rica was that of relief. After a difficult game, in which the team created good opportunities that ended in the hands of goalkeeper Keylor Navas, many believe that now the Brazilian team will be able to play better with a better rhythm to their game. Question being – will these hopeful thoughts really come in to fruition?
The game against Costa Rica presented a big problem: the winger Douglas Costa, who filled Willian’s shoes very well and who was perhaps the best player in the match, was injured at the end of the game and will not be available to play for the next two matches. Another replacement was right-back Fagner who took Danilo's place as the latter was injured as well. What appeared to be a major problem, luckily for Brazil, ended up not even an afterthought. Fagner made a great match, playing even better than Danilo.
The game against Serbia might be the most difficult so far: there are many rumors that changes in the starting lineup will be made, such as Renato Augusto in place of Willian and moving Coutinho to the right wing. Either way, the game will be very diffcult and in a scenario that the team loses Brazil will hang their hopes for advancing in the tournament tied to a Swiss loss against Costa Rica.
On another note, Neymar scored his first goal of the tournament in the last matchday and we are all left with the hope of this being a sign that the team's star will now be playing better? He is undoubtedly the player who has the most potential to impact the match, even coming back from injury. Fans around the world and Brazil espcially, want to see Neymar's talent to play more than he has shown and that he will just stay focused on football and not care about the referees.
The opposing team has talented, high-profile players such as Kolarov and Milinkovic-Savic but this does not seem to be a major obstacle for the Brazilian team. It's easy to see that Brazil has high chances of winning the match and securing the first place in the group. If things go as planned, there are great chances of a rematch between Brazil and Germany in the next phase.