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Five-time world champions Brazil are the pre-tournament favorites to triumph in Qatar
Serbia possess plenty of attacking talent and will be targeting the round of 16
Expect an entertaining game, with Serbia unlikely to sit back and accept their fate
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The Selecao have an abundance of attacking quality and should get the job done, but a clean sheet might be out of reach on this occasion.
Back Brazil to beat Serbia and both teams to score. (+218)
For Brazil, World Cups are like heads or tails: you either win or you lose. Anything less than victory in Qatar will be a disappointing outcome for the five-time champions, whom the best online sportsbooks rate as the outright favorites before a ball has been kicked.
The Selecao are certainly in good shape. They breezed through South America’s notoriously difficult qualification tournament, winning 14 and drawing three of their 17 matches. Tite’s side scored 40 goals - an average of 2.35 per game - and conceded only five. It was a near-flawless campaign.
The only negative note of late for Brazil was their defeat by Argentina in last summer’s Copa America final. But perhaps that loss will only serve to make these players hungrier for success in Qatar. Tite has already announced he will step down after the tournament, so it is a last-chance saloon for him - as well as the likes of Thiago Silva, Dani Alves, and perhaps even Neymar.
Brazil’s strength in depth is perhaps the best in the tournament, and their starting XI looks balanced too. Tite has two options: he could either start Fred alongside Casemiro if he wants more midfield security, or he could use Lucas Paqueta as an attack-minded option in the engine room.
Either way, Brazil have plenty of attacking quality to call upon. Neymar, of course, is the centerpiece of this team. He needs three goals to overtake Pele and become his country’s all-time leading scorer, but he trails the legendary former forward 3-0 when it comes to World Cup wins.
That is an itch Neymar is desperate to scratch and he will never get a better chance than this. Brazil are not the only strong side at this World Cup, though, and there is plenty of work still to be done.
Serbia might have missed out on last summer’s European Championship, but they have been tipped as potential dark horses this winter. Managed by Dragan Stojkovic, himself a top-class soccer player in his day, Serbia beat Portugal to top spot in their qualification group after winning 2-1 in Lisbon on the final matchday.
There is certainly plenty to be excited about. Serbia’s squad is packed full of attacking talent, to the extent that Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic and former Real Madrid man Luka Jovic are not guaranteed to start. Vlahovic could get the nod alongside Aleksandar Mitrovic up front in a 3-4-1-2 formation, but Stojkovic will be tempted to employ a slightly safer 3-4-3 on Thursday.
The key man is Dusan Tadic, who can play in a No.10 role or as an inverted wide player. The Ajax schemer only really fulfilled his true potential after he left the Premier League, and he has the invention and guile to cause Brazil problems here.
There is quality out wide too, with Filip Kostic and Andrija Zivkovic providing speed, thrust, and crossing ability from wing-back. The worry for Serbia is that the defense does not exactly inspire confidence. They only kept one clean sheet in qualifying and their opponents in Group G - Switzerland and Cameroon, as well as Brazil - should be able to create chances against them.
Still, there is real optimism in Serbia going into this tournament, as the Eagles attempt to reach the knockout phase of the World Cup for the first time as an independent nation.
This could be one of the most entertaining games of matchday one. As the only team to have competed at every World Cup and the country with the most wins, Brazil are always essential viewing in this tournament. And in Serbia, they will face an opponent that will not simply sit back and look to spoil.
There is reason to believe that Stojkovic’s side could cause Selecao a few problems. The manager encourages an attack-minded style, partly because that is what he believes in but partly because his squad is not suited to sitting deep and defending. When you have so much attacking talent in your ranks, it is pragmatic to play to that strength.
Brazil had an excellent defensive record in qualifying, but the full-back is their weak spot, Thiago Silva is not far off 40 and Marquinhos’ progress has stalled in the last couple of years. Serbia have what it takes to find the back of the net at the Lusail Iconic Stadium.
Ultimately, though, the Eagles’ openness could be their undoing. Serbia will give Brazil space into which they can attack, and Tite’s men look well-placed to take advantage. Back the pre-tournament favorites to get off to a winning start in a game featuring goals at both ends.
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Teams: Brazil vs Serbia
Location: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail, Qatar
Time: Thursday, 24 November 2022, 2:00 PM EST
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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