GROUP E concludes on Wednesday as pre-tournament favourites Brazil meet Serbia in Moscow. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) previews the encounter and picks out his best bets.
Serbia v Brazil | Wednesday 27th June 2018, 19:00 | ITV
Pre-tournament favourites Brazil needed stoppage-time strikes from Philippe Coutinho and Neymar to bail them out against Costa Rica last Friday night to secure their first victory at the 2018 World Cup.
Tite's team were heading for their second successive inglorious draw and were reaching desperation time before the late intervention. In fairness, the goals had been coming as the five-time winners turned the screw with a domineering second-half performance in Saint Petersburg.
Brazil produced a listless opening 45 minutes – too cautious and pedestrian in their approach play, hampering their progress. But half-time tweaks, plus a noticeable gear change, did the trick.
Costa Rica keeper Keylor Navas made a couple of spectacular saves, while Gabriel Jesus' header came off the woodwork. Few could argue the Samba Boys didn’t deserve maximum points as the Soutb Americans racked up a 3.45 return on the Expected Goals count, firing in 22 efforts.
However, Tite may be pondering changes having seen Paulinho put in an ineffective performance and Willian hauled off at the interval. Renato Augusto and Fernandinho are both pushing for a starting spot, while other concerns centre around their star attraction.
Neymar's histrionics suggested the squad may not be quite as psychologically stable as we presumed and the Selecao will be aware they still need to convince the masses that they are in fact the real deal. Douglas Costa misses out here with a hamstring injury and Danilo is also expected to be unavailable.
Group dynamics should suit Brazil
Nevertheless, Brazil are fair short-priced favourites to conclude the group-stage with a win having managed W9-D4-L0 across their past 13 outings, shipping just three goals. The pool dynamics should also suit.
With Serbia aware they’re likely to have to win the game, Brazil should be given more space and freedom to hurt their opposition in transition and on the counter-attack; indeed, the two goals Serbia conceded against Switzerland came in very similar circumstances.
If Switzerland beat Costa Rica as expected, Serbia will need to beat Brazil here in Moscow, forcing the White Eagles on the offensive. It’s a world away from where the Balkan boys were sitting at half-time against the Swiss last time out…
Having impressed in their opener against Costa Rica, Serbia led Switzerland at the interval off the back of one of the most potent attacking displays seen so far in Russia. Mladen Krstajic's side were in an enviable position, a place in the Last 16 in their grasp, thanks to Aleksandar Mitrovic’s fine early header.
However, Serbia struggled to cope in the second period. Despite conceding an equaliser, the Balkan outfit continued to try and find a winner, leaving themselves exposed at the back. Before shipping the heartbreaking stoppage-time goal, a blatant penalty was missed on Mitrovic and the White Eagles were understandably furious at the final whistle.
Krstajic is unlikely to make wholesale changes but Adem Ljajic could come back in for Filip Kostic. Either way, victory looks a tall order for a nation that can often find themselves too emotionally involved to perform to the best of their ability.
The betting angle
The offer on Brazil to win and Over 1.5 Goals at 10/11 (Ladbrokes) appeals. The Samba Stars know goal difference could play a part in topping the pool and with Serbia expected to flood forward in an attempt to find a route back into the pool, an entertaining encounter should follow.
The bulk of the Selecao’s recent matches have produced relatively low-scoring ties, however, history suggests the final group-stage is the highest-scoring round at the World Cup and therefore I’m happy to have goals onside in the capital.
Serbia v Brazil – Brazil to win and Over 1.5 Goals (10/11 Ladbrokes)