World Cup Preview: Brazil v Belgium

Who? Brazil - Belgium
Where? Kazan Arena, Kazan
When? July 6, 20:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

The history of Brazil and Belgium is completely positive for A Seleção. In four matches, Brazil won four times, and the last one was the most striking and important. In the round of 16 of 2002 World Cup, the last time Brazil won the World Cup, Brazil defeated the Belgian national team 2:0. In this match, the Ronaldo and Rivaldo scored, the two main players of that team. A forward and a midfielder. Will we see a repeat by Neymar and Coutinho?

If the Brazil will keep to improve like in the previous matches, it may happen. In the last match, against Mexico, the Mexican played 25 minutes of pressure. However since then only Brazil played, with scoring two goals in the second half. One of them was after a great play by Willian, that had been criticized for his performances in the previous matches. The other, scored by Firmino, that many believe that he must be in the lineup for the next matches. Changing the team or not, in the next match probably all the players will be available for Brazil except from one player, Danilo, who would not return to play in this tournament. Douglas Costa is expected to return to the bench after recovering from injury.

The expectations among the Brazilians are great. The excitement of the fans is increasing in every match and everyone believes that winning the title is really possible. It is also amazing to see how much support the Brazilians get is in other countries. All this positive energy, coming from all over the world is very important. The Brazilian people are grateful and hope that the team will give them love back.

Belgium (Omri Tancman)

The first and last time Brazil and Belgium met in an official match was in 2002. Belgium lost 2-0 and Brazil continued on to lift the trophy and become world champions. From this squad there are no remains and the current golden generation of Belgian football was built on the ashes of this team after a long term program.

In the last world cup, Belgium met another South American team in quarter finals, Argentina, and lost 1-0 prior to its elimination. Based on these results, some might argue that the Belgians are losers who have no chances against South American teams. However, when considering the current match up with Brazil, Belgium has in a way a secret weapon on their bench. From all personnel in current Belgian national team the only one who has ever one Brazil is Thierry Henry.

Much has been talked recently about the contribution of Henry to the Belgian national squad. Different topics were heavily analyzed, from his relationship with Lukaku, to his mental influence and attacking vision and coaching ability. But besides all of this, sometimes what is needed is just to consult with someone who already knows how to do it.

In this case, there is no doubt that Henry, who scored the winning goal in the 1-0 win of France against Brazil in 2006, is a very good address. Even without magically turning Kevin de Bruyne to Zinadine Zidane, no one doubts that with the know-how Henry possesses, he can give this squad the small edge they missed in previous stages such as this.

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World Cup Preview: Brazil v Mexico

Who? Brazil - Mexico
Where? Samara Arena, Samara
When? July 2, 16:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

In the last time that Brazil faced Mexico in a competitive match, the game finished in a tie and with a great hero from the Mexican side, Guillermo Ochoa. Brazil will face him once again and the memories of him are frightening.

Back to the match from 2014 World Cup group stage, Ochoa was the key player. He made incredible saves and was able to handle the Brazilian attack on that day. Back then, Neymar was not able to beat the goalkeeper, who was a true barrier.

We will certainly see a great game today. The Mexican team, despite having lost 0-3 against Sweden in the last match, made two good wins, including against powerful Germany. On the Brazilian side, we watch a team that is growing throughout the tournament.

Brazil has improved in each game. The last match began with a scare: the left-back Marcelo got injured and Filipe Luís substituted him in the first minutes. It caused a lot of fear on the Brazilian side since Marcelo is one of the pillars of the team. However, everything went well: Filipe Luis made an excellent match and he seems as good replacement.

The Brazilian squad is facing a lot of injuries: Danilo was injured earlier, and then Douglas Costa and Marcelo joined. Danilo and Marcelo are expected to be available for this match, although Marcelo is not supposed to be part of the lineup. It's unknown yet when Douglas Costa will return to play. Anyway, Brazil will hope that no more players will get injured, although the substitutes made great work as replacements.

The match will be a battle between two great teams from Latin America. If the injuries would not disturb the show, we will see the better team as the winner. Brazil will hope that Ochoa would not make the same performance as in 2014.

Mexico (Meir Lozowick)

2 years ago, Mexico was in one of its lowest points after being eliminated from the Copa America Centenario by Chile. It just wasn’t just another elimination. Mexico lost 0:7 and the ground was shaking beneath Juan Carlos Osorio legs. The public and the press were furious, and the pressure to sack the Colombian manager was massive. Yes, the players were criticized as well, but the main target was the manager. The easiest thing to do was to release the manager from his duties. However, the chairman of the Mexican football association decided not only to keep Juan Carlos Osorio in charge but also grant him any demand that he might have.

After getting clear and loud support, Juan Carlos Osorio started the rebuild the team. He limited the press access to the training ground, as well as creating a direct channel with the European clubs of the players, were the important keys in the manager's plan. In the last 2 years, Osorio visited the players and talked with their managers in their respective clubs in order to maintain the ongoing plan that will benefit the nation team.

Another important aspect was the hiring of Imanol Ibarrondo, former Spanish footballer. Nowadays, he is a mental coach that helps to develop positive attitude and to create a change of thinking. Ibarrondo has created a set of specific rules for the players, so they can improve their mental strength. He obviously recognises that the first thing that the team need is to be in physical shape and well trained, but he and Osorio insist that strengthening the mental side, will improve the results of the team.

The first glimpse of the mental change was winning against the USA in the first time since 1972 in Columbus, Ohio. Mexico couldn’t win there and breaking this streak helped the players to gain confidence. The latest example can be seen against Germany in the first game. Winning against Germany for the first time in history has proved Ibarrondo's methods.

Mexico qualifying to the round of 16 is almost a guaranteed bet, as well as Mexico being eliminated in this stage. Following a hard defeat against Sweden in the last game of the group stage, Mexico has to play against Brazil. Arguably the best team of the tournament. If you want to bet on this game and ask Ibarrondo, he would recommend you to put your money on Mexico, or as a Spaniard he will describe it: “the best test for your ways, is always to do the hard thing, you either win or learn”. He got the opportunity he asked for, now it’s the time to demonstrate that his way is the correct one.

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World Cup Preview: Serbia v Brazil

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.

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World Cup Preview: Brazil v Costa Rica

Who? Brazil - Costa Rica
Where? Krestovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg
When? June 22, 14:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

Disappointment. This is the only word that can be used to describe the performance of the Brazilian team in their 2018 World Cup opener. Many expected for good football and a decent victory, but what was seen was a team that shot very badly and did not match the expectations. Neymar made a game much below average and several criticisms already appear to the team.

In order to win the next game and to stay in a good position, the influence of the manager Tite will be a key factor: he has to be fearless in the substitutions. He is an excellent coach, he has won important titles, but that does not make him clear of criticism. In the game against Switzerland, his changes were very pragmatic and none caused a real change in the course of the match. For example, two of the three substitutions were made to change the midfield and in both he switched players from the same position. Against Costa Rica, it's time for him to dare a little more: if Brazil are in a tie, why not put the team forward, putting Douglas Costa instead of Paulinho, for example? The starting lineup will be the same, except from one change - Fagner will be in the first XI insted of Danilo who got injured. This is really the best Brazil have. However, the options coming from the bench should be better chosen.

Brazil's game against Switzerland was not exactly bad: the Swiss played very well, but much more was expected from Brazil, especially by players like Neymar. During the game, he played with the ball a lot and suffered 10 fouls. The Swiss team did not let the best Brazilian player to appear and the team's creativity was compromised. Anyway, Neymar is not yet 100% recovered from his injury and we can understand that he is not yet at his best. There is still a concern with him, because at Tuesday's practice he limped away. Even so, he should be starting in the game on Friday, though, it will be a bit understandable if he would not meet the expectations.

Against Costa Rica, victory is a must, since the game against Serbia must be difficult. Anyway, the optimism on continues: Brazil have a strong and qualified squad to go far in the World Cup. However, it is necessary that Brazil will have kind of a fresh start. Brazil are capable of more and it is well known.

Costa Rica (Omri Tancman)

Costa Rica and Brazil have a long rivalry dating back to the 50’s. In fact, both teams have already played each other a couple of times in the World Cups. Their second and last meeting was in 2002 and Brazil crushed Costa Rica 5-2. One of two Costa Ricans who scored in that game was Paolo Wanchope. When asked about the upcoming game, Wanchope urged Costa Ricans players to give 100 per cent since they do not have the privilege against Brazil to lack enthusiasm and effort.

Nevertheless, Wanchope complained about the lack of a natural striker in the squad, and pointed out Marco Ureña and Joel Campbell as two players who should step up and offer some attacking ability. Against Serbia, the two strikers didn’t perform too well. Based on the analysis of “Twelve Football Analytics” both players didn’t have any influential attacking actions. Ureña, who started was even weaker than Campbell who came from the bench. Altogether, both players didn’t have any important attacking actions and only one important defensive action.

In order to have even the slightest of chances the Costa Ricans need much more contribution from their strikers. A possible solution can be to start with Campbell instead of Ureña, due to an overall better performance of Campbell against Serbia. No one expects from Costa Rica to challenge Brazil, but even a goal to remember, like Wanchope scored, can be a nice accomplishment.

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World Cup Preview: Brazil v Switzerland

Who? Brazil - Switzerland
Where? Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don
When? June 17, 20:00 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

The wait ends on Sunday: after a depressing finish for 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian team returns to the biggest tournament in the world against Switzerland. Brazil and Switzerland has faced eight times in history , but only once in the World Cup: 2-2 draw in 1950.

Brazil is excited for the World Cup. They are undefeated in the last 11 matches and the Brazilian are expected to give a true show at the premiere. Nothing except from victory will be acceptable and Neymar will do anything to make it happen.

Neymar have one of the most entertaining playing style in the world. He has everything that is need to mess up the defense of Switzerland. Returning from injury in the friendly games before the tournament, the biggest Brazilian player nowadays scored two beautiful goals in the matches against Croatia and Austria. He will surely use his speed and skills over Lichtsteiner, who will probably not be able to stop him without making fouls.

The biggest problem of the Brazilian team is perhaps the right back. With the injury of Dani Alves, it is possible to see Danilo in the first XI. He is not a bad player, but he is not at the same level as the other lineup players. Therefore, he should become more aware to the Swiss attempts to make him as an easy target.

Even with this small problem, Brazil are the favourites in this clash. This way to start the World Cup has everything to give confidence to one of the biggest teams in the world, which will seek with all its strength to take back to the place they know so well and to blow away the ghosts of 2014. Neymar will not be afraid to face it, just as he is not afraid of any defender -  these feelings may come, but Neymar will pass it.

Switzerland (Yossi Medina)

It is something that we need to get used to it, as Switzerland qualified for their fourth consecutive World Cup. They done it in the past, but one of these World Cups was 1954 campaign, which they hosted. It means that the Swiss managed to complete great four qualifying campaigns.

More than that Switzerland is usually qualifying for the knockout stage and can cause problems for major teams. They made a draw against France in 2006 and defeated Spain in 2010, two teams that will eventually reach the final. In such tournaments, Switzerland show their best skills and manage to play great even against teams that are considered as favorites.

Arsenal's Stephan Lichtsteiner will be one of most experienced players in the squad. As he probably will be in the starting XI, he can be the Swiss player with the most World Cup appearances, as he played 7 matches. He is also the only player in the Swiss squad to made 100 caps.

Another player that was significant four years ago and will like to make the same performance in this campaign is Xherdan Shaqiri. His hattrick against Ecuador in the last group stage match led Switzerland to another round of 16 appearance. With 20 international goals, Shaqiri's next one will make him as one of the top 10 goalscorers in the national team.

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Vai Brasil!

The all-time title leader. With five World Cups, this is what Brazil is seeking to defend in Russia, while Germany is behind them with four titles. After the shame in 2014 World Cup, many expect that Brazil will be better and they can even win the title.

Brazil is perhaps the country that had the greatest number of football legends. Besides the greatest of all, Pelé, several others like Ronaldo, Romário, Garrincha and Ronaldinho Gaúcho enchanted several generations, always with  beautiful soccer based one dribbles. That kind of football made many fall in love in this game.

In 2018 World Cup, Brazil will seek to regain this status. Without winning the tournament for 16 years, this may be the best squad since the last winning squad in 2002. Managed by the giant Tite, one of the best managers the country has ever had and currently one of the best in the world, A Seleção comes strong for the World Cup.

The team is full of great players: from Alisson and Éderson the goalkeepers, through Marcelo and Thiago Silva in the defensive line, with Casemiro, Paulinho and Phillipe Coutinho in the midifield and a front line with Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino. This year's squad is undoubtedly much better than 2014 squad: the national team has great options in all positions and showed much better football since the arrival of Tite.

The Brazilian people are very excited about the possible journey for hexacampeonato, the sixth title. The future of Brazil is very uncertain and football can be a way out from everyday problems. Winning the title can bring so many joy for a lot of people, even if it is for a single moment.

As a young man who previously did not care much about the Brazilian team and cared only about Palmeiras, I can say that today I'm in love with Brazil national team. We are giants and although we have been humiliated four years ago and many have made fun of us, our history will never be erased. We produce some of the best players in the past and I can assure you: Brazil future will be the same. If we will win the title or not, I can say that our greatness will continue for a long time.

Vai Brasil! Make everyone remember who you really are. The biggest and best of all.

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World Cup Nostalgics: Best 5 Repeats at the Group Stage

The World Cup always brings us the feelings of great memories. Many games during the group stage will remind an old-fashioned World Cup clashes with the same teams. Here are some of these best repeats.

Sweden - Germany
1958 Semifinals 3:1 / 2018 Group F

In 1958, Germany was the reigning World Champions and they were two wins away from winning the title once again. 1:0 lead by Germany didn't made any change for the hosts feeling. Sweden managed to equalize during the first half and scored twice in the last with goals of Gunnar Gren and Kurt Hamrin. Sweden made history and qualified for their only final in the history. Can Sweden upset Germany once again?

Morocco - Portugal
1986 Group Stage 3:1 / 2018 Group B

In hot summer day at Guadalajara, Morocco and Portugal met while they knew that the winner will qualify for the next stage. Portugal were the favourites, but they didn't believe that Morocco will be in one of its best matches ever. Abderrazak Khairi scored a brace in the first half and Abdelkrim Merry added one more. The Atlas Lions won and Portugal found themselves being eliminated too early.
Portugal are once again on the lead, but will it be enough to defeat Morocco?

Brazil - Costa Rica
1990 Group Stage 1:0 / 2018 Group E

Costa Rica World Cup debut was a memorable campaign with wins against Scotland and Sweden and reaching the knockout stage. Nevertherless, one of its well known performances was actually at the defeat 0:1 against Brazil. In this match Costa Rica played with an unusual black and white shirts. The local crowd in the mythical Delle Alpi in Turin thought it a gesture for the local team, Juevetus, and it was enough to make Costa Rica as one of the most beloved team in the tournament.
May Costa Rica have another performance that will be enough to get support?

Argentina - Nigera
1994 Group Stage 2:1 / 2018 Group D

Argentina and Nigeria will meet for the fifth time in World Cup group stage, but none of the previous matches was as amazing as the first meeting in 1994. An early lead with a goal scored by Samson Siasia made the Argentinian a bit shockes. Only Claudio Caniggia could save the day for the Albiceleste and he scored twich before the half time whistle. These goals gave Argentina the win, but later both of the teams qualified for the knockout stage.
In 1994 they qualified together and it happened once again in 2014. What will be in 2018?

Spain - Portugal
2010 Round of 16 1:0 / 2018 Group B

Another Portuguese lost, this time against the eventual World Cup winners in that year, Spain. The only goal scored by David Villa was enough for a win in the Iberian Peninsula derby and to qualify for the quarterfinals. The interesting name in the list is Portugal manager in this match, Carlos Queiroz. In 2018, he will make a double repeat while he will meet Spain and Portugal as the head coach of Iran.
With tons of emotion, what will be the end of the Queiroz-Portugal-Spain trio in the next World Cup?

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World Cup Warm-up: Austria v Brazil

Who? Austria - Brazil
Where? Ernst Happel Stadion, Wien
When? June 10, 16:00 (CET local time)

On June 8, 1958, the Brazilian national team faced the Austrian in the first match of the World Cup. Back then, Brazil made a great 3:0 win, with two goals by striker Mazzola, who has a resemblance to another striker that currently is part of the Brazilian squad.

Mazzola and Gabriel Jesus, both played and became well known in Palmeiras. Both also played for European giants: Mazzola made it as AC Milan player, while Gabriel Jesus doing it today in Manchester City.

Gabriel Jesus is one of the most promising youngsters in this World Cup. Four years ago, he was painting the streets of his neighborhood for the 2014 World Cup. In 2018, he will be be part of the biggest football competition in the world, so he finished his career as a painter. However, Jesus keep helping people to paint, as he made a contribution for amazing portrait of him in his neighborhood, Jardim Peri.

The 21-year-old was the Canarinho's top scorer in the qualifiers and he was one of the key players in maintaing the World Cup appearances streak of Brazil. This is not a small achievement. It's even bigger when it comes from a boy who four years ago only thought about cheering for Brazil, but ended up being disappointed of his team performance.

Mazzola scored the first goal against Austria in the 1958 campaign, which ended with the first title of Brazil. Gabriel Jesus will probably be in the first XI, and after a weak performance against Croatia, all he needs is to score goals to gain confidence. Even if it's just a friendly, the feeling is that the competition has already begun. So, if Jesus will have a great performance, we can already expect big flights from Brazil in the World Cup.

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World Cup Warm-up: Brazil v Croatia

Who? Brazil - Croatia
Where? Anfield, Liverpool
When? June 3, 1600 (CET local time)

Brazil (Vitor Buratini Mendes)

In 2014, Brazil hosted the World Cup. The expectations were huge. Many believed that it would be the year that the “Seleção canarinho” will win its sixth title of the biggest soccer tournament in the world. However, the first minutes of the Brazil national team were not the best: in the 11th minute, Marcelo scored an own goal and began the scoring for the Croatian team. Brazil managed to win the game, however, this could already be a sign for the future in this tournament, that will be end with one of the biggest humiliations in football history.

Marcelo scored the only own goal of Brazil in the history of the World Cup. A terrible achievement that affect a player and even finish his part in national team. Coach Dunga, who came after Felipão's resignation, did not call up Marcelo. Furthermore, he was left out of the 2016 Copa América squad. After Dunga's failure, Tite was hired as the new coach to save the team and make it to the World Cup. One of his first steps was to get Marcelo back to the team.

Four years later, Marcelo has evolved a lot. At that time, he was already one of the best left backs of the world and today he may be considered as one of the best in history. He was very important this season, including two assists at the Champions League final and scoring important goals throughout the knockout stage against Bayern, Juventus and PSG.

Brazil's journey begins today in the friendly against Croatia. After all, it's the time to see whether Marcelo let behind the ghost of the own goal from 2014. Who know, maybe this time he would not score for Brazil?

Croatia (Eden Roitfarb)

Since becoming an independent country, the Croatian national team has qualified to 10 out of 12 possible major tournaments. Despite being a small and a relatively young country, Croatia are a very experienced and dangerous side. More than half of the Croatian squad from 2014 has been named in the preliminary squad for the 2018 World Cup - that includes include Champions League winners Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić, alongside runner up Dejan Lovren and other household names such as Ivan Rakitić and Mario Mandžukić.

Having been drawn in Group D alongside Argentina, Nigeria and Iceland - undoubtedly a top candidate for the “Group of Death” this tournament, Zlatko Dalic’s men would need to step up their game in order to advance through, in contrast to the big disappointment from the 2014 World Cup where the Balkan side failed to advance from the group stage.

Speaking of which, there is a familiar opponent ahead. Croatia will face Brazil on Sunday, in a rematch of the opening game from 4 years ago. The Seleção, won 3-1 that day in São Paulo, but the Croatians still feel injustice was done due to some questionable officiating. The game in Anfield might be less meaningful and fiery but serves as an important preparation for both teams. The Vatreni view Brazil as an opponent that most resemble South American powerhouse Argentina. Likewise, their next friendly will be against Senegal, who will take the role of fellow Africans Nigeria. And what about Iceland? Well, these two sides are familiar enough with each other after facing off twice in the qualifiers.

As Lovren will be able to testify, Anfield is one of the most unique stadiums in the world - and with all the big names both sides have to offer, we can expect a great afternoon of football.

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