Who: Brazil vs Serbia, Group G

Where: Lusail Stadium

When: Thursday, 22:00 (19:00 GMT)

FIFA Ranking: Brazil (1), Serbia (21)

Brazil and Serbia meet in the group stage of the World Cup for the second consecutive edition. A lot has changed for both teams since their duel in Moscow four years ago.

The evolution of Brazil’s squad is best illustrated by the fact that the opening goal in their 2-0 win over Serbia in 2018 was scored by Paulinho, who has not played for the national team in the past four years. Brazil’s midfield were run raggedly by Belgium in the quarter-final that year and the way they were shown was maintained manager Tite awake at night.

Their midfield going into the current World Cup has been strengthened significantly. With Fabinho, Bruno Guimarães and Lucas Paquetá – all making their World Cup debut in Qatar – Tite has found the perfect balance in the middle of the park.

Brazil was a team in transition in 2018 and had no clear identity. The shadow of their humiliation during the 2014 World Cup they hosted – when they were thrashed 7-1 in front of their fans by Germany in the semi-finals – still hung over the team and the nation as a whole.

But this time there is a palpable enthusiasm surrounding the side of the perennial favourites, much of which has to do with the attacking talent at their disposal.

Neymar perhaps plays his best football at Paris Saint-Germain. Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli have been key to Arsenal’s resurgence this season. Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo are fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid. Add Raphinha, Antony and Richarlison to this and you have a forward line made up of fire and flair in equal parts.

The Seleção went undefeated in their World Cup qualifiers, scoring 45 goals and conceding just five.

Like Brazil, Serbia has also undergone a change since the last World Cup. The 2018 tournament in Russia was only their second ever appearance at the World Cup. The squad was littered with veterans who were clearly past their prime and youngsters who lacked the experience to play on such a global stage. It is not surprising that they fell in the group stage.

But the current squad seems better equipped to handle the pressures of major tournament football. The old guard of Branislav Ivanović, Nemanja Matić and Aleksandar Kolarov have retired and the younger players who were part of the 2018 squad have made huge strides in their development.

Aleksandar Mitrović broke the record for most goals scored in an English season last year. He is currently one of the most feared strikers in the English Premier League. Filip Kostić played a key role in Eintracht Frankfurt’s Europa League victory last season and sealed a move to Juventus.

Lazio’s Sergej Milinković-Savić has consistently been one of the best midfielders in Serie A. Serbian captain Dušan Tadić moved to Ajax after the 2018 World Cup and was a key member of their build-up to the 2019 Champions League semi-finals. of striker Dušan Vlahović – reports suggest Real Madrid and Manchester United are eyeing him – enhances the potency of this Serbian attack.

Serbia topped their World Cup qualifying group ahead of Portugal, scoring an impressive 18 goals in eight matches.

Aleksandar Mitrovic scored more goals than Cristiano Ronaldo in World Cup qualification REUTERS/Marko Djurica/File Photo

Serbia and Brazil rely heavily on their attacks and have cracks in their rears. Serbia kept just three clean sheets in their last 14 official matches. Meanwhile, the Brazilian squad falls short on fullback positions: Danilo, Alex Telles, Alex Sandro and Dani Alves fail to inspire confidence. Their attacking nature could be exploited by Serbia’s fast wingers.

Brazil is going into the World Cup in great shape and has not lost a game since losing to Argentina in last year’s Copa America final. They have scored 18 goals in their last five games. Serbia has won four of its last five games, scoring 14 goals.

All this points to one thing: expect a high-scoring affair on Thursday.

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By wy9m6

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