16:00 GMT, Friday 23rd March, Luzhniki Stadium (Moscow, Russia)
The hosts of the World Cup this summer take on one of the favourites in the shape of Brazil. Russia and their opponents are both in good form, and the clash in Moscow is one of the more exciting ties coming from the international break.
Brazil were the first team other than the hosts to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, topping South American qualifying, losing just once in 18 games. But with Neymar injured, uncertainty is creeping in and there is nervous wait to see if he makes to Russia in three months’ time.
As for Russian boss Stanislav Cherchesov, he has no such worries. Not having to qualify for a World Cup does deny you of competitive matches, but brave performances against the heavyweights of Argentina and Spain at the end of 2016 gives the Russians plenty of confidence.
Last time out
Russia 3-3 Spain (International friendly)
Looking to test themselves ahead of the World Cup, Russia took on one of the world’s best in Spain and gave them a good run for their money. The home side surprised the Spaniards with their energy but were unfortunate to find themselves two goals down with 35 minutes, one to a harsh penalty.
They bounced back brilliantly with Cherchesov’s men scoring just before the break with a well-worked goal through the middle of the Spanish defensive. Fyodor Smolov showed great poise on the ball and composure to smash the ball past David De Gea.
It was 2-2 shortly after half time as Russia worked the ball down the left with some intricate passing before the ball came back for Aleksey Miranchuk to level.
A second tough penalty call but Russia behind again, but they once again showed some magic in the middle of the park. A flowing move gave Smolov some room on the edge of the box and an emphatic finish put them on level terms once more.
Russia had looked the more dangerous side in the tie, and to concede three goals was unduly given the quality of their performance.
England 0-0 Brazil (International friendly)
Whereas Russia and Spain played out a six-goal thriller, it was the exact opposite at a dry Wembley back in November. With England hit by a host of injuries, Gareth Southgate chose to stifle Brazil after see his side shut out Germany in a 0-0 draw.
Joe Hart made three useful saves to deny Neymar & co. with some last ditch defending from England’s back five keeping Brazil at bay.
Dominic Solanke, who hadn’t started a Premier League game all season, had the chance to steal a victory for England late on, but he was smothered by Allisson.
Brazil will hope for a more adventurous Russia in order to play more expansive football themselves.
Russia are without two of their goal threats in the form of Aleksandr Kokorin and Artem Dzyuba. Coach Cherchesov has tried different formations in recent months, but given the threat they posed Spain, it is likely he will stick with the 5-3-2.
The major absentee is Neymar. How Tite deals with this loss is an interesting one, but he is also without two left backs in Filipe Luis and Alex Sandro. David Luiz is also out, making life difficult for the manager.
Keep an eye on the unproven Rodrigo Caio, Fager, Pedro Geromel, Ismaily, Willian Jose and Besiktas star Anderson Talisca as Tite rotates his side before facing world champions Germany next week.
Key battle: Fyodor Smolov (Russia) vs Thiago Silva (Brazil)
Thiago Silva has been in poor form of late, being dropped by PSG boss Unai Emery for the first leg of the Champions League clash against Real Madrid.
The 33-year-old is likely to come across the in form Fyodor Smolov who tore Spain to shreds back in November.
On a club level, the Krasnodar striker has scored 12 goals in 16 Russian Premier Liga games this season, and with his hold up play, close control and ruthless finishing, it could be along afternoon for his opponent.
Former AC Milan defender Silva is an experienced cookie, but with David Luiz an alternative this summer, a poor performance in Moscow could jeopardise a trip back to Russia.
No Neymar, no party?
Since Tite came in as Brazil boss, he was quick to dispel 'Neymardependencia'. We all saw how Brazil fell apart four years ago to Germany in the semifinal, losing 7-1 without their talisman Neymar.
With the world’s most expensive player absent for the friendlies through injury, we can see how accurate Tite’s philosophy. It’s a chance for the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Willian and Roberto Firmino to step up on the international stage, or we may see some new names grasp their opportunity to travel to the World Cup with the five-time champs.
Balance in Brazilian midfield
Neymar’s absence could mean Philippe Coutinho heads to left wing, but with two genuine defensive midfielders in the squad (Casemiro and Fernandinho) and two box-to-box men (Paulinho and Fred), the Barcelona man could be deployed in a more central role.
Renato Augusto has been the chief architect for Tite over the past year, but with no Neymar, more weapons will be needed from midfield.
Russian dark horses
Russia deserved to beat Spain, and they were level with Argentina for 86 minutes in the last batch of friendlies. A kind World Cup draw gave the hosts plenty of confidence, and they have built on this with top performances against the world’s best.
Sbornaya follow the Brazil clash with another big hitter in the form of France, and if they pick up a victory in either of the two fixtures, they could be the surprise threat this summer.
Prediction: Russia 1-2 Brazil
Russia are in good form, but there is too much quality in this Brazil side. Both teams like pass the ball intricately, so it is poised to be one of the most exciting games of the international break.
Can either of this sides win the World Cup? Let us know in the comments section below.