19:00 BST, Saturday 17th June, Rostov Arena (Rostov-on-Don), ITV
Brazil get their 2018 World Cup campaign underway against dark horses Switzerland. Tite’s men had a successful warm-up campaign remaining unbeaten in six matches, only the 0-0 draw against England at Wembley preventing a perfect record.
During that run, Brazil beat world champions Germany in Berlin and hosts Russia in Moscow, and only conceded a single goal.
In fact, they have lost just one of their last 21 matches in all competitions and start the tournament as favourites.
Opponents Switzerland have also been in good form and are expected to be the surprise package of this year’s tournament. They have lost one of their last 17 matches at all levels – a 2-0 defeat to Portugal – and have drawn just twice.
Just two weeks ago they held Spain to a 1-1 draw in Villarreal. Since Vladimir Petković took charge of Die Nati in 2014, they have lost just eight of the 40 games they have played.
This game will provide an early test for the favourites and could set them on their way to the knockout stages with games against Costa Rica and Serbia to come. The Swiss will also view this game as a chance to test their level and win, lose or draw, they will still rate their chances of emerging from Group E.
Last Time Out
Austria 0-3 Brazil [International Friendly]
Gabriel Jesus, Neymar and Coutinho all got on the scoresheet as the Seleccao cruised to a 3-0 win in Vienna.
Tite’s selection showed how the team might lineup against Switzerland, with Coutinho in a deeper role and Willian on the right of a front three.
Gabriel Jesus pounced on a blocked shot from Marcelo to opening the scoring with a sublime finish in the 36th minute, showing why he is likely to start ahead of Roberto Firmino on Saturday.
You can read RealSport’s analysis on the Firmino vs Jesus debate HERE.
Neymar dazzled the Austrian defence with some fancy footwork before slotting home to make it 2-0 just after the hour mark before Coutinho wrapped things up with a cool finish after being put through one-on.one against Heinz Lindner.
Brazil claimed 64% of the possession from which they created 11 chance on goal to Austria’s six.
Switzerland 2-0 Japan [International Friendly]
Japan create just a single shot on target as Vladimir Petković’s side strolled to a 2-0 victory in their final World Cup warm-up match.
Despite their dominance, it took a 42nd minute penalty from Ricardo Rodriguez to break the deadlock after Breel Embolo was fouled in the box.
Some sloppy defending from Japan allowed substitute Haris Seferović to double the lead from close range in the 82nd minute.
The win extended Switzerland’s unbeaten home run to nine matches, during which they kept eight clean sheets and scored 19 goals.
There will be no real surprises in the Brazil lineup.
Gabriel Jesus will be preferred to Roberto Firmino up front, whilst Willian could start on the right flank, allowing Coutinho to play a deeper role in this 4-3-3 and exert more of an influence over proceedings. This means Fernandinho will miss out, however.
Yann Sommer, Fabian Schär and Ricardo Rodríguez should all start in defence, with either Johan Djourou or Manuel Akanji making up the back four.
Admir Mehmedi has not recovered from a foot operation in time, so Steven Zuber is likely to fill his midfield role while Haris Seferovic will be expected to lead the line against Brazil as Switzerland adopt a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Key Battle: Neymar (Brazil) vs Manuel Akanji (Switzerland)
Neymar’s stature in the game has grown dramatically since he bowed out of the tournament injured four years ago with a back injury. He is now one of the biggest names in sport and will carry the hopes of a nation on his shoulders once again.
The biggest difference this time is the players he has around him. This feels like the most complete Brazil team in years and an older and wiser Neymar should enjoy being surrounded by such talent.
Manuel Akanji has only recently broken into the national team, but there is evidence to suggest Petkovic will put his faith in the 22-year-old. Already a first team regular at Borussia Dortmund his career has been on a steep trajectory since leaving Swiss Challenge League side Winterthur three years ago.
If given the nod, he could make a real name for himself this summer dealing with the likes of Gabriel Jesus and Neymar. Life won’t be easy, however, with both Neymar and Jesus able to switch positions.
This is what makes Brazil’s front three so deadly; the ease with which they interchange position and find pockets of space to exploit. It’s not just Neymar that Akanji needs to keep an eye on, therefore, with Coutinho, too, also keen on arriving in the box from deep.
Have Brazil exorcised the demons of four years ago?
The 7-1 defeat to Germany in 2014 hit them hard and they will be keen to make amends. For a team like Brazil that means winning the tournament.
While that brings incredible pressure, the team seems to have the strength and confidence to cope with that this time round. Moreover, the expectation of playing in Brazil – as was the case in 2014 – has been lifted and the players seem generally happier and far more relaxed.
Whether it is all a mask to cover an ongoing trauma will be revealed when they step out on the field this week.
Can Coutinho deliver?
Philippe Coutinho’s stock seems to have fallen a little since he made the switch to Barcelona from Liverpool. The Reds barely missed him while he fought hard to make an impact in Spain, ending the season with a respectable eight-goal haul.
However, he can sometimes drift in and out of games and if he is not effective in tournament conditions, Tite has able replacements waiting in the wings. This could be a defining few weeks for the 26-year-old.
He provided just two assists during World Cup qualifying compared to eight from Neymar, six from Willian and four from Gabriel Jesus. Even Marcelo and Paulinho equalled his tally from fewer starts so he needs to step up in Russia.
Read RealSport’s analysis of Coutinho’s deeper role for Brazil HERE.
This perhaps explains Tite’s decision to drop him into a deeper midfield role. It enables to get on the ball more frequently and pull Brazil’s strings, rather than drift inside from a wide position on the left or right flank.
This is where Barcelona perceive Coutinho to be best, as a long-term replacement for Andres Iniesta.
Are Switzerland really that good?
Switzerland have been tipped by many as dark horses in this tournament, but are they really any good?
A lot has been made of their qualifying campaign, but it should be remembered that they have often performed well in qualifying only to come unstuck at tournament level.
They have only lost one World Cup qualifying game since October 2008 (30 games) and that came against Portugal – 0-2 – in their latest campaign. They fell at the group stage in 2010 and emerged from a group containing France, Ecuador and Honduras in 2014 before falling to Argentina in the last 16.
To expect them to go any further than that this time out is unrealistic, especially as they are likely to face Germany if they reach the Round of 16.
Prediction: Brazil 2-0 Switzerland
Brazil have kept 20 clean sheets in their last 25 matches. This defensive prowess coupled with their attacking threat has made them favourites for the title and should see them breeze past their opponents.
Switzerland performed well in qualifying, but they are not on the same level as Brazil and will do well to restrict them to two goals.
If they dare to venture forward, they will come up against one of the strongest defences in world football.
Listen to the RealSport football writers discuss Group E in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.
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