Vancouver Whitecaps’ Captain, Kendall Waston (with ball), prepares for his first World Cup match against Serbia on June 17 as he represents his native Costa Rica (via @kwaston88/Twitter)

FIFA World Cup preview: Whitecaps’ Kendall Waston hopes to repeat success of Costa Rica in 2014 in Group E

Brazil, led by Neymar, considered likely winners of Group D

The 2018 FIFA World Cup begins on Thursday, June 14. Leading up to the tourney, we’ll offer our previews and predictions for each of the eight groups. Today, a look at Group E:

Brazil

FIFA rank (as of June 11, 2018): 2

Best player: Neymar (PSG)

Neymar is among the top five footballers on the planet. Brazil’s success could rely on whether he is healthy or not, as he has been sidelined with a foot injury since February. The World Cup would not be as glamorous without Neymar.

One to watch: Casemiro (Real Madrid)

Casemiro had a successful season with Real Madrid, capturing the Champions League trophy as a starter for the club. He will be asked to anchor the midfield for this star-studded Brazilian side.

Outlook:

Brazil’s last World Cup match was back in 2014 when they fell 7-1 to the eventual champions, Germany. Brazil has made some surprising changes to their roster this time round leaving out Chelsea’s David Luiz and PSG’s Dani Alves. A lot will be expected of Neymar and this phenomenal roster.

Switzerland

FIFA rank: 6

Best player: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal)

Xhaka played all 38 games for the Gunners in the English Premier League in the 2017-18 season. He is a solid defensive player who will anchor Switzerland’s midfield.

One to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)

Shaqiri made a name for himself with his move to Bayern Munich in 2012. He is a quick forward who has a strong build, despite being only five-foot-six.

Outlook:

Switzerland has a solid squad for a geographically small country. They will need to play well against Costa Rica and Serbia in order to advance to the knockout stage in back-to-back World Cups for the first time in the nation’s history.

Costa Rica

FIFA rank: 25

Best player: Keylor Navas (Real Madrid)

Navas has been Real Madrid’s go-to in net since he arrived at the club in 2014 after his World Cup performance. Navas was easily Costa Rica’s best player at the 2014 World Cup as the nation advanced to the quarter-finals of the tournament, the nation’s best ever finish.

One to watch: Kendall Waston (Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Waston is the only Whitecaps player competing in the World Cup. He guaranteed Costa Rica’s World Cup qualification with a stunning header goal in the box against Honduras. He is a powerful defender who will be a rock at the back for Costa Rica.

Outlook:

It is hard to imagine that Costa Rica repeats their performance from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Navas will need to perform at a world-class level for them to have a chance in this group.

Serbia

FIFA rank: 35

Best player: Nemanja Matic (Manchester United)

Vice-captain Matic played all but two games for United in the Premier League this season. He is a rock in the midfield and will be tasked with connecting passes from the back to the frontline.

One to watch: Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (Lazio)

Sergej had himself a phenomenal breakout season in the Serie A with Lazio. He scored 12 goals as a midfielder, tied for ninth in the league. Though he has only appeared three times for the national team, look for him to get some time on the pitch in the World Cup.

Outlook:

Since becoming an independent nation in 2006, this will be the second time Serbia has qualified for the World Cup. If Matic and defenders like Captain Aleksandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic can hold down the back line they should be able to make it through the group stage. Serbian fans need to behave as FIFA has fined the Football Association of Serbia 160,000 Swiss francs for incidents at World Cup qualifying matches.

Group Winner: Brazil. Brazil has arguably the most exciting roster in the tournament and it would be well beyond a disappointment to see them not win the group.

Group Runner-Up: Serbia. They have the size and the skill to make it through to the knockout stage and the goal-scoring ability in Aleksandar Mitrovic.


@kieranroconnor
kieran.oconnor@bpdigital.ca

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