Neymar to usher in Brazil’s new era
Tite has lightened star's load and provided him with reliable supporting cast
Coach: Tite (Adenor Leonardo Bacchi)
- Inheriting his national side on the back of a group-stage exit at the Copa America Centenario, the 57-year-old has provided Brazil with both a trademark eloquence and regimented organisation that saw them concede just four goals in the whole of last year.
- Star players: Neymar, Roberto Firmino, Philippe Coutinho
- Best World Cup result: Winners (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
- Performance at last World Cup: Semi-finals
Breaking from a glorious past became a necessary evil for Brazil.
GROUP E FIXTURES
June 17:Costa Rica v Serbia, 8pm
June 18: Brazil v Switzerland, 2am
June 22: Brazil v Costa Rica, 8pm
June 23: Serbia v Switzerland, 2am
June 28: Serbia v Brazil, 2am
June 28: Switzerland v C. Rica, 2am
All in Singapore time
Nostalgia had led them to rehiring Luiz Felipe Scolari and arguably the greatest World Cup humiliation of all-time in 2014 saw them double down by appointing Dunga for a second time, making him the 12th returning coach in the country's managerial history.
Eventually, the Selecao realised that they had to rewrite history rather than revisit it.
Where Dunga was too defensive-minded and Scolari preferred to operate a flawed wing-back tactic, Tite has made Brazil a far more balanced outfit than the extremes of his predecessors.
Exorcising the ghosts of their 2014 campaign has helped, not least with a 3-0 qualifying win over Argentina in Belo Horizonte; the scene of a humiliating 7-1 semi-final defeat by Germany.
No longer do Brazil rely heavily on Neymar, whose absence preceded their abject surrender just four years ago.
A greater diversification of creative outlets lifts the burden on the world's most expensive player, even if focus invariably still gravitates towards him.
A medium-term injury and an ill-fated move to Paris Saint-Germain has stripped away some of his previous aura.
Fortunately, others have stepped up to the plate with the likes of Barcelona attacker Philippe Coutinho, Manchester City striker Gabriel Jesus and Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro now bringing a collective harmony to proceedings.
The first team to clinch a place at the World Cup are unlikely to find any obstacles in Group E, with a formality-like route already mapped out.
They are, however, in need of refinement on the back of a season where their players dominated the European agendas with their clubs.
From their final 23-man squad, 16 of their Europe-based players won trophies , while Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and AS Roma goalkeeper's Alisson progressed to the Champions League's latter stages.
Neymar, however, still commands top billing and, after scoringhis 55th goal in 85 appearances for Brazil, the PSG forward matched Romario's record and will be making inroads on Ronaldo's tally of 62, which is second only to Pele.
With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo now both over 30, he may not have a better chance to usher in a new era for Brazilian football.
TOMORROW: GROUP F
Balanced Swiss will be confident
- Coach: Vladimir Petkovic
- Star players: Granit Xhaka, Breel Embolo, Xherdan Shaqiri
- Best World Cup result: Quarter-finals (1934, 1938, 1954)
- Performance at last World Cup: Round of 16
In keeping with their country's key exports, Switzerland's World Cup route had been both meticulous and exquisite.
But goal difference and a defeat by Portugal in their final group qualification match undermined an otherwise impressive run of maximum points from the preceding nine games and sent them through to a play-off with Northern Ireland, which was settled by a dubious penalty.
Vladimir Petkovic's side still head to Russia with growing confidence due to a fine balance of rising potential and experience.
Arsenal's 25-year-old midfielder Granit Xhaka is one of three members of his country's Under-17 World Cup-winning side of 2009 to make the final 23-man squad.
Relegation from the English Premier League is unlikely to deter Xherdan Shaqiri from making a statement in Russia, while Borussia Dortmund's 22-year-old defender Manuel Akanji appears capable of helping captain and new Arsenal signing Stephan Lichtsteiner, 34, shore up a problematic area for a side that made it to the Round of 16 of Euro 2016.
Serbia pose Brazil’s biggest threat
- Coach: Mladen Krstajic
- Star players: Nemanja Matic, Dusan Tadic, Aleksandar Mitrovic
- Best World Cup result: Fourth place (1962, as part of Yugoslavia)
- Performance at last World Cup: Did not qualify
Redoubtable experience sees Serbia posing Brazil's greatest challenge in Group E.
More workhorses than their previous role of dark horses, Mladen Krstajic has not shied away from making controversial decisions during his eight months in charge of the Eagles.
For every questionable move, such as relieving Branislav Ivanovic of the captaincy in favour of Aleksandar Kolarov, there has been an equal or opposite reaction. Lazio playmaker Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's rise under Krstajic provided an encouraging precursor to the World Cup.
Experience will again be key, with several English Premier League stalwarts in key positions, but the goal-scoring burden will likely fall to Newcastle United's Aleksandar Mitrovic, whose season-long loan at Championship side Fulham yielded 12 goals in 18 starts as the London club achieved promotion.
Yesterday morning (Singapore time), Mitrovic scored a hat-trick in Serbia's final tune-up match, a 5-1 drubbing of Bolivia, with Adem Ljajic and Branislav Ivanovic netting the other two.
No repeat heroics from Costa Rica
- Coach: Oscar Ramirez
- Star players: Keylor Navas, Celso Borges, Bryan Ruiz
- Best World Cup result: Quarter-finals (2014)
- Performance at last World Cup: Quarter-finals
So far, reaching the World Cup's last eight has been as good as it gets for Costa Rica.
Wins over Italy, Uruguay and Greece in 2014 saw the world sit up and take note of Los Ticos before Holland halted their fairy tale with a penalty shoot-out win in the quarter-finals. Hopes of repeating that unprecedented feat are ambitious at best. Oscar Ramirez's side are older, but not necessarily wiser.
At 32, Sporting Lisbon forward and Costa Rica captain Bryan Ruiz remains their key goal threat, while much will depend on the fortunes of 31-year-old Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
Arsenal winger Joel Campbell, who has constantly been on loan without having much playing time, could still prove to be a handful for defenders.
Costa Rica's fifth appearance at a World Cup is likely to end in the same fashion as half of their previous adventures; in the group stage. A strong showing in their opener against Serbia could be the difference between status quo and another surprise run.