Every day at Sportsgrape we’ll be previewing every World Cup game with team news, tips and predictions ahead of the day’s games. After a whole week of dramatic World Cup action, the action continues with an all-South American clash to start the day, before two matches where all four sides involved really can’t afford to lose.
GAME ONE: Brazil vs Costa Rica (1pm kick-off BST)
Not many analysts and pundits expected Brazil to slip up against Switzerland in their opening group match, so El Selecão will be raring to go as they look for their first set of three points in Russia.
The major concern regarding team news, just like in the build-up to the tournament, surrounds the fitness of Neymar. The Paris Saint-Germain forward limped out of training earlier this week, with many reports suggesting that the Brazil medical staff are doing all they can to make sure the talisman is fit for Friday’s game.
Costa Rica were very poor against Serbia on Sunday, and rarely looked like threatening the Serbian goal. A major improvement is needed if they want to stand a chance of qualifying for the latter stages. The main topic of debate coming from the Costa Rican camp is whether manager Oscar Ramirez starts Joel Campbell or not. The winger, who is still contracted at Arsenal, was a key player for his country during the 2014 World Cup, but was named on the bench for the Serbia game. Could the 25 year-old be the remedy for a currently toothless attack force?
Despite dropping points in their first game, Brazil should make quick work of Costa Rica. Ramirez’s side were dismal against England in the pre-tournament friendly and out of ideas against Serbia, and even if Neymar is not fit enough to start the game, Tite’s men certainly have the strength-in-depth to put a few past their fellow South American opposition.
Match Prediction: Brazil 4-0 Costa Rica
GAME TWO: Nigeria vs Iceland (4pm kick-off BST)
Nigeria were very disappointing in their encounter against Croatia, as the Croats really didn’t need to get out of second gear to comfortably beat them 2-0.
The most frustrating aspect of the Super Eagles’ performance was perhaps the fact that their ‘big name players’ failed to show their experience of playing at the highest level. Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, Chelsea’s Victor Moses and striker Kelechi Iheanacho have all played Champions League football, but went missing in their opening game on Saturday evening. These players especially really need to buck up their ideas, as failure to win on Friday could see Nigeria all but heading home.
Iceland, on the other hand, were magnificent in their 1-1 draw against Argentina. It appears that Heimir Hallgrimsson’s men have taken their Euro 2016 mentality into this World Cup, and this particular team is extremely difficult to break down. They are very similar to Atletico Madrid, in the way that they almost prefer it when they have less of the ball, and are very clinical on the counter attack.
While Nigeria are certainly an easier outfit compared to Argentina, Iceland will find themselves in a rather unfamiliar situation where they are actually the favourites to win the game. This could hinder their chances of gaining all three points, as they might find it tricky to break teams down themselves. That being said, Nigeria are not a side to take for granted, and manager Gernot Rohr has promised Nigeria fans that his side will not lose on Friday. No pressure then…
Match prediction: Nigeria 1-2 Iceland
GAME THREE: Serbia vs Switzerland (7pm kick-off BST)
The Swiss were very impressive against Brazil on Sunday night. Despite going behind early, their ability to keep themselves in the game against the tournament favourites and limit the influence of Neymar throughout the game meant that they deserved their 1-1 draw in Rostov.
Serbia, meanwhile, should have made easier work of Costa Rica, as they looked a strong and powerful outfit against the South Americans. Aleksandr Mitrovic looks like a nuisance up front, while we are yet to see the best of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, who scored 25 goals for Lazio in all competitions during 2017/18.
Neither side have any injury concerns, so expect to see unchanged starting elevens for both teams. In fact, the Swiss and the Serbians are both similar in the fact that they have experienced players in their sides. Switzerland’s spine includes 36 year-old Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner and 33 year-old Valon Behrami, while Serbia have three defenders in their back four over the age of 32, including former Premier League defenders Aleksandr Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic. The addition of pacy and tricky strikers for both sides means that there could be goals in this one.
Match Prediction: Serbia 2-2 Switzerland