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Brazil should begin World Cup with a bang

World Cup Group E
ITV, 7pm Sunday


Brazilian football was on its knees when the national team lost 7-1 to Germany at the 2014 World Cup semi-finals but the Samba Stars return to the biggest stage with a spring in their step and and look rock-solid favourites to beat Switzerland in Rostov.

There was always a suspicion that Brazil's 2014 World Cup squad was not a vintage group of players.

And the team's limitations had been exposed in the previous summer when Switzerland defeated them 1-0 in Basel.

Of the Swiss starting line-up that night, seven – Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez, Valon Behrami, Blerim Dzemaili, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Haris Seferovic – are in their 2018 World Cup squad.

But Switzerland are up against a very different Brazil side – one who have made substantial progress since Tite took over as head coach in June 2016.

Tite inherited a team who had failed to get out of the group stage at the Copa America Centenario.

But he had good raw materials to work with and has done a marvellous job, presiding over 17 wins, three draws and one defeat.

The final verdict on Tite will not be delivered until after the World Cup but his team go into the competition as favourites, something which didn't seem very likely when Andre Schurrle was rounding off the Germans' scoring spree in Belo Horizonte.

They were a class apart in qualifying, losing just one of 18 games and finishing ten points ahead of second-placed Uruguay.

And confidence has continued to grow this year with a string of impressive friendly victories, headlined by a 1-0 success over Germany in Berlin.

Neymar missed the Germany victory with a foot injury but came back into the fold for the wins over Croatia (2-0) and Austria (3-0), scoring on both occasions.

Getting Neymar fully fit is a huge boost but Brazil are no longer totally reliant on the mercurial 26-year-old, as they often seemed to be four years ago.

Philippe Coutinho is starting to show Brazil fans the talent which have made him the darling of Anfield and Camp Nou.

And they look stronger in the centre-forward position with Gabriel Jesus showing the confidence of a player who has just won a league championship for Manchester City.

Brazil also have Roberto Firmino, Willian and Douglas Costa in reserve and look certain to score goals.

But their defence is also a strong suit and is a pointer to finding a value bet for their first game.

Brazil are odds-against to win without conceding a goal, which looks a great price considering the limitations of Switzerland.

Xherdan Shaqiri is the star turn for Swiss, having scored 20 goals at international level, and is a threat from set-pieces.

But Switzerland have little else for Brazil to worry about.

Seferovic – their likely starting centre-forward – scored just four league goals for Benfica this season and Breel Embolo – often deployed as an impact substitute – fails to hold down a regular place for Schalke.

They defended well enough in a poor qualifying group, conceding seven goals in ten games – and will probably sit back against Brazil in the hope of nicking a point.

However, far better teams have failed to contain Brazil this year and the Swiss resistance is likely to be broken at some stage.

Recommendation
Brazil win to nil

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Match in Focus

13:00 TODAY ITV

Sweden v South Korea

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Sweden have won only two World Cup matches since reaching the semi-finals in 1994
Expert verdict
Neither team comes into the tournament in great nick and it could be worth taking a chance on a minor World Cup upset with South Korea a little bit of value against Sweden. South Korea possess the best attacker on the pitch in Heung-Min Son, while Sweden tend to be a team who struggle when asked to force the issue as favourites.