World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group E contenders
Brazil are one of the tournament favourites for Russia 2018.

World Cup Candidates: Interviewing the Group E contenders

Neymar and co. spearhead a high quality group featuring Brazil, Costa Rica, Switzerland, and Serbia.

Dylan Walsh

Each day we preview four new World Cup nations. Can they win the ultimate process and secure the role of reigning World champions?

Today, it's Group E.


Known as: Selecao

Address: The Maracana

Best previous role: Five-time World Cup winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

It would not be unreasonable to say that we boast the best forward line in the tournament. Neymar, Gabriel Jesus and Phillipe Coutinho are a frightening prospect for any defence with a mixture of pace, power and precision.

With a super exciting front three and an experienced set of defenders, the issues lie in midfield, but even this is nit-picking. Coach Tite (it’s pronounced Chi-Che by the way) has opted for a pairing of Renato Augusto and Paulinho, which worked wonders in qualifying.

What happened last time out?

We don't want to talk about, everyone knows the story. We hosted in 2014 as the favourites. Everything was going to plan, and then Neymar got injured and Thiago Silva got suspended for THAT semi-final against Germany. 7-1, tears.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We have faced our group stage opposition a total of nine times and only lost just one of those encounters. Our record against Costa Rica is impeccable, beating them in our previous eight games against them, but we have a relatively poor record against the Swiss, winning three of our eight games against them and losing our most recent meeting 1-0 in 2013. We have only played Serbia once back in 2014.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

Our plan is simple. Build from the back, and allow the front three to do what they do best; score. Tite rebuilt the defence at the beginning of what is turning out to be a promising reign as Brazil manager.

With attacking full-backs and Paulinho joining in on the attack, our mix of solidity and fluidity will be sending opponents into confusion for the majority of the tournament.

Who are you relying on to help secure the job?

Do I even need to go into detail who our main man will be? Of course, it’s Neymar. Although the PSG winger has missed a good chunk of action this calendar year, he is back and well rested to help guide us to our first World Cup in over 15 years.

Another player we are relying on to lead us to glory is Gabriel Jesus. The Manchester City striker is set to embark on his first World Cup campaign on the back of a double-winning season for his club, wearing the famous number 9 shirt once of the great Ronaldo. If the front three are on form, we will go far.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

We have taken the unorthodox approach of announcing our 23-man squad weeks before anyone else announced their full squads.

But, Roberto Firmino could surprise a few from the bench. The Liverpool striker has had his best ever season with the Merseyside club in the past nine months, and his ability to turn up in the big games can prove useful should we make a deep run into the tournament.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Either celebrating in the streets of Rio with our sixth World Cup trophy, or looking for a new manager after screwing up yet again.

Costa Rica

Known as: Los Ticos

Address: Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica

Best previous role: Quarter-finalists (2014)

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Our main strength is our organisation in defence as we set our experienced side up to have five defenders back when out of possession, aiming to suffocate our opponents in the third and protect star man Keylor Navas. The speed in which e counter-attack will be our main attacking outlet against stronger sides with the also experienced Marco Urena up front.

Our glaring weakness, though, is the lack of individual quality that could see us become too reliant on Navas to keep us in games.

What happened last time out?

The last World Cup was just brilliant. We were drawn into the group of death with Italy, England and Uruguay, and not only did we surprise everyone by getting out of the group, we topped it by beating Italy and Uruguay and drawing with England.

We then progressed to the quarter-finals after winning with 10 men against Greece on penalties in the round of 16, and we came ever so close to becoming the first Caribbean team to progress to the semifinals when we were eliminated by Holland on penalties.

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We have only faced our World Cup opposition this year a handful of times in our history, but have come up against Brazil nine times, in which we have lost eight of those encounters. The last time we beat the tournament favourites was in 1960, back when Pele was playing.

We are yet to face Serbia internationally, however we have played Switzerland twice on the global stage in which we claimed a 1-0 win against the Europeans back in 2010.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

We hope our experienced core of players will be able to provide another solid platform just like they did in 2014. Navas is still vital to our success, so we’re hoping for some big performances from him.

We tend to attack high by playing from the back, so expect to see the likes of Brian Oviedo and Cristian Gamboa play pivotal roles when we go on the attack. Of course, the likes of Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell will also be important figures in us winning games, as well as veteran striker Marco Urena, who was our top goal scorer in qualifying.

Who are you relying on to help secure the job?

We have many key players that will be vital in helping us better our result in 2014 but our main man will be the guy between the sticks, Navas. Since 2014, our number one has gone on to become a mainstay for Real Madrid and a vital member of their squad that won three Champions League titles.

We will also be relying on captain Ruiz to create and score the occasional goal, as well as Campbell who was our star man in the previous World Cup.

Any wildcards that might help you out?

We have many players from under-appreciated regions of the world that could surprise the other candidates, but our likely pick for a wildcard is Ian Smith.

The 20-year-old right back has impressed in Sweden this season with Allsvenskan side Norrkoping and Smith could be an outside shot to start in the opening game of the tournament against Serbia.

Finally, where do you see yourself in five years weeks?

Ideally, patting ourselves on the back after surprising the world yet again by escaping a difficult group, however this time around it wouldn’t be a shock if we’re back in our Caribbean home earlier than expected.


Known as: Die Nati 

Address: Stade de Suisse, Bern. 

Best previous role: Quarter-finalists, 1954. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We are a team with plenty of experienced players. Ricardo Rodriguez is a player of immense capability both defensively and going forward, and established Premier League midfielders Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka occupy the middle of the park. 

Over the years we have been seen as a squad with a lot of talent but have lacked strength in defence. We hope to have solved this issue with Borussia Dortmund's Manuel Akanji. However, at the age of 22-years-old he lacks experience with this being his first international tournament. 

What happened last time out?

Brazil 2014, in all honesty, we probably met expectations. Our group consisted of France, Ecuador and Honduras. We breezed past Honduras, scraped a victory against Ecuador with a 93rd-minute winning goal and were taught a footballing lesson by France. We qualified from our group but were unlucky to draw Argentina. We gave it everything we had and took the runners-up to extra time before Angel Di Maria scored a 118th-minute winner. 

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We have three in line. The first will be with Brazil on June 17, the second with Serbia on June 22 and our final meeting with Costa Rica on June 27. However, we hope to secure a further meeting or even two but we do not want to get ahead of ourselves. 

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

Our preferred formation is 4-2-3-1, we like to have a strong spine to our side. With Arsenal's Granit Xhaka patrolling the middle of the park we hope to defend well and rely on the experience up top to prove the difference.

We have our eyes on a minimum on six points, there is no denying that our first outing against Brazil will be a huge challenge. However, we firmly believe we are capable of victories over Serbia and Costa Rica. 

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Does the name Breel Embolo ring a bell? Well it should, this youngster has been tipped to be the next big thing and at the age of just 21-years-old, he has everything at his disposal to become great. He has immense pace which we hope to use, possibly coming off the bench we believe he could the difference. 

Finally, where do you see yourself in years weeks?

Well, we are hoping to continue to grow as a side. We have plenty of youth and for a few years now have been described as a 'possible surprise package' but now it is time to develop some consistency in the competition. 


Known as: Orlovi

Address: Rajko Mitić Stadium, Belgrade. 

Best previous role: Fourth place, 1962. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses?

We have experience on our side. Our team is crammed with players who have played at the highest level. But of course, our hopes are lying on Aleksandar Mitrovic we need him to be 'on fire' for us to stand any chance of progressing. With the likes of Branislav IvanovicAleksandar Kolarov and Nemanja Matic we have experienced players which we hope we can rely on to keep the midfield and defence sturdy. 

As for weaknesses, our hopes do largely rely on the form of Mitrovic. If we can replicate his form which he showed in his short stint at Fulham we stand a chance. However, should he not bring his scoring boots or pick up an injury we will face a tough challenge of progressing past the group stages. 

What happened last time out?

We don't really like to talk about Brazil 2014 - mainly because we did not even qualify for it. 

Have you set up meetings with any other candidates?

We have a meeting with Costa Rica on June 17, Switzerland on June 22 and our final meeting which must be said we are fearing already is with Brazil on June 27.

What’s your strategy to beat those candidates?

We hope we can count on the experience within our defence. Our captain Aleksandar Kolarov could prove a huge influence on the campaign. A tough full-back who is known for his wicked left foot can help going forward and even chip in with a goal or two. 

With a strong defensive midfield partnership between Matic and Crystal Palace'Luka Milivojevic we hope our forwards will be free to express themselves going forward. 

We know we are not the favourites to win the group but we feel second place is certainly up for grabs. It might get scrappy in the race for second place but we feel we have players who are up for the fight. 

Any wildcards that might help you out?

Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the young midfielder enjoyed a successful campaign with Lazio. Having netted 12 goals in Serie A, we hope he can prove a huge influence on our tournament. His exceptional showing in the 2017/18 campaign has earned him the interest from some of Euope's elite sides in what could be a huge move worth around £80m. 

He was not in favour under our previous boss, but under Mladen Kristajic he may be given the opportunity to shine on the worldwide stage. 

Finally, where do you see yourself in years weeks?

We know it will not be easy, but fingers crossed we can find it within ourselves to progress from Group E.  


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