Who: Brazil vs Serbia, Group G
Where: Lusail Stadium
When: Thursday 10:00 p.m. (19:00 GMT)
FIFA Ranking: Brazil (1), Serbia (21)
Brazil and Serbia meet in the group stage of the World Cup for the second year in a row. A lot has changed for both sides since meeting in Moscow four years ago.
The development of the Brazil squad is best evidenced by the fact that the opening goal in the 2-0 win over Serbia in 2018 was scored by Paulinho – who has not played for the national team for the past four years. Brazil’s midfield was torn apart by Belgium in the quarter-finals this year and the way they were exposed kept manager Tite up at night.
Your midfield has significantly strengthened before the current World Cup. With Fabinho, Bruno Guimarães and Lucas Paquetá all set to make their World Cup debuts in Qatar, Tite struck the perfect balance in the middle of the park.
Brazil were a team in transition in 2018, lacking a clear identity. The shadow of their humiliation at the 2014 World Cup they hosted – when they were beaten 7-1 by Germany in the semifinals in front of their fans – still hung over the team and the nation as a whole.
But this time around, there’s a palpable enthusiasm in the long-running squad, in large part to do with the attacking talent at their disposal.
Neymar arguably plays his best football at Paris Saint-Germain. Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli have been key to Arsenal’s resurgence this season. Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo just won the Champions League with Real Madrid. Add in Raphinha, Antony, and Richarlison, and this is a forward line that’s equal parts fire and flair.
🗣️ “When I heard my name I couldn’t even speak, I cried for an hour. I was so happy buzzed.”
Gabriel Martinelli says he cried for an hour after learning he had been included in Brazil’s squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. 🇧🇷
— Connor Humm (@TikiTakaConnor) November 12, 2022
The Seleção went unbeaten in World Cup qualifiers, scoring 45 goals and conceding just five.
Like Brazil, Serbia has changed since the last World Cup. The 2018 tournament in Russia was only her second appearance at a World Cup. The roster was littered with veterans who were clearly past their prime and youngsters who lacked the experience of playing on such a global stage. Unsurprisingly, they failed in the group stage.
But the current side seems better equipped to deal with the pressure of big tournaments. The old guard of Branislav Ivanović, Nemanja Matić and Aleksandar Kolarov have retired and the younger players who were part of the 2018 squad have made huge strides in their development.
Aleksandar Mitrović broke the record for most goals in an English season last year. He is currently one of the most feared strikers in the English Premier League. Filip Kostić played a leading role in Eintracht Frankfurt’s Europa League triumph last season and sealed a transfer to Juventus.
Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić has consistently been one of Serie A’s best midfielders. Serbian captain Dušan Tadić joined Ajax after the 2018 World Cup and was a key player in their run to the 2019 Champions League semi-finals. The emergence of striker Dušan Vlahović – reports according to Real Madrid and Manchester United are among those keeping an eye on him – boosting the clout of this Serbian attack.
Serbia topped their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Portugal, scoring a phenomenal 18 goals in eight games.
Serbia and Brazil rely heavily on their attacks and have gaps in their defences. Serbia have only kept three clean sheets in their last 14 official matches. Brazil’s squad, meanwhile, lacks full-back positions with Danilo, Alex Telles, Alex Sandro and Dani Alves not inspiring confidence. Their attacking nature could be exploited by Serbia’s speedy wingers.
Brazil enter the World Cup in outstanding form, having not lost a game since last year’s Copa America final defeat by Argentina. They have scored an incredible 18 goals in the last five games. Serbia have won four of their last five games, scoring 14 goals.
All of this points to one thing: expect a goal-scoring affair on Thursday.