Five-time champions Brazil are steeped in World Cup-winning traditions and the Seleção’s current generation is sprinkled with enough stardust to make a push for glory again in 2022. Supporters have had to wait until day five to see them in action in Qatar, though the tournament favourites finally open their campaign against Serbia today in what could prove a crunch encounter in Group G.
The Seleção played and beat the Serbians in the group phase of the previous World Cup in Russia four years ago (2-0) and most observers expect history to repeat itself at the Lusail Iconic Stadium this evening.
You can find our stats pack for the game below which features useful nuggets on shots, shots on target, goals, corners, cards and more from the teams’ World Cup qualification journeys. Read my Stats Pack Guide to learn more about how you can use the statistics to build smarter bet builders.
Brazil’s Head Coach Tite has a fully fit squad to choose from for the nation’s World Cup opener today and the 61-year-old has decisions to make in a number of key positions.
The ex-Corinthians boss has enjoyed a staggering 75%-win rate since taking the reins with Brazil back in June 2016 and he generally settles on either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation for most games.
His favoured pair of Casemiro and Fred could be reunited in midfield, but ahead of them, Neymar seems like the only shoe in. Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Junior, Richarlison and Gabriel Jesus will battle it out for the remaining three berths in attack.
Dragan Stojković was a flamboyant attacking midfielder during his playing days, though he has been building his Serbia teams on solid defensive foundations with a trio of centre-halves flanked by a pair of wing-backs.
Central defenders Milos Veljkovic, Nikola Milenkovic and Strahinja Pavlovic have an average age of just 24.3, which belies their mature displays at the back.
Sergej Milinković-Savić and Dusan Tadic provide panache in midfield, though vice-captain and top-scorer Aleksandar Mitrović is expected to sit out Serbia’s first match as he steps up his recovery from an ankle complaint. Luka Jovic will play up front if the Fulham man misses out.
Brazil were sensational en route to topping the notoriously tricky South American World Cup qualification group ahead of rivals Argentina. They finished their campaign unbeaten and dropped just six of the 51 points on offer.
Renowned for their commitment to free-wheeling attacking football, the Brazilians didn’t disappoint, hammering home 2.35 goals per 90 minutes overall, though their relatively modest shots (13.28) and shots on target for figures (5.89 p/90) both hint at a razor-sharp clinical edge that should serve them well in Qatar.
Brazil’s superb defensive displays went under the radar a little, though they conceded just five times in 17 qualification contests against a series of frustrated opponents who picked up a lofty 3.65 cards per 90.
Serbia played roughly half the number of qualification fixtures as Brazil, though they also enjoyed an unbeaten campaign to pip a fancied Portugal outfit to top spot in UEFA Group A.
Statistically, The Eagles matched up well to Brazil in the goals (2.25 p/90) and xG (2.06) departments, where both figures were remarkably similar to the South Americans.
Serbia trumped Brazil for shots, shot on target and corners for, however, which may come as a surprise to some. Interestingly, Serbia kept just one clean sheet in eight assignments in their qualification group, however, which is a slight cause for concern.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Neymar remains the brightest light in a star-studded Brazilian attack and the 30-year-old was as influential as ever during the World Cup qualifiers where he racked up 2.10 shots on target and 4.10 shots on target p/90.
Barcelona winger Raphinha (3.22 shots p/90) was an impactful presence on the flank, as was Antony (3.08) when he was handed opportunities to shine.
Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus (2.37) still hasn’t established himself as a prominent figure for the Seleção, though his glittering performances for Arsenal this season should make him equal parts confident and dangerous in Qatar.
Aleksandar Mitrovic (5.24 shots p/90) and Dusan Vlahovic (4.36) combine to form a devastatingly effective front two for Serbia, as evidenced by their superb shooting stats during qualifiers and it will be a bitter blow to The Eagles if they are separated on matchday one.
Filip Kostic (1.67) can be useful from the left, though the direct threat on goal posed by 34-year-old Dusan Tadic seems to be on the wane for both club and country.
Sergej Milinkovic-Savic could be an option to consider in midfield. The marauding Lazio star is a handful in the box during set pieces and he averaged 1.8 attempts during Serbia’s World Cup qualifiers and 2.0 per game in the summer’s Nations League.
Player Goals and Assists
Neymar was a tour-de-force for Brazil over the course of their qualification campaign and the 30-year-old finished with a haul of 16 goal contributions in ten appearances split evenly between goals and assists.
Richarlison was next in line with an impressive six goals in eight runouts and another 13 separate players chipped in to build Brazil’s 40-goal tally. Marquinhos was the only Brazilian defender to get in on the act, however.
Nobody came close to matching Neymar for creativity, though Gabriel Jesus, Raphinha, Renan Lodi and Bruno Guimaraes did manage to lodge two assists each.
Fan favourite Aleksandar Mitrovic averaged a goal per game for Serbia during their successful pursuit of World Cup qualification – double the output of his foil in attack, Dusan Vlahovic. Mitrovic also outgunned Vlahovic by six goals to one in the Nations League over the summer.
Dusan Tadic doesn’t tend to score all that often anymore, though he has been comfortable playing the role of provider and the veteran set up six goals for his teammates in qualification matches. Tadic also manufactured four assists in five starts in the Nations League.
Neymar’s bookings are generally earned through ill-temper rather than heavy tackles, though it might be best to look elsewhere for Brazilian card candidates today.
At the base of the team’s midfield, Casemiro and Fred collected three cards each during Brazil’s qualifiers and as the side’s chief architects of destruction, either looks worthy of inclusion.
At centre-half, Marquinhos (three cards) faces a physical test against some heavy-shouldered Serbian strikers and the 28-year-old could be a leading runner in the card market.
Dusan Vlahovic was among Serbia’s most-fouled players in qualification fixtures and his head-to-head with Marquinhos has the makings of a card-producing tussle.
Dusan Tadic (fouled 2.06 times p/90) has the creativity and cleverness of thought to be a nuisance for prime card-collector Casemiro, while Sergej Milinković-Savić’s running power could draw some interesting challenges from diminutive Brazilian Fred.
Match-Ups to watch
Casemiro vs Dusan Tadic
Marquinhos vs Dusan Vlahovic
Fred vs Sergej Milinković-Savić
Strahinja Pavlovic collected more cards than any other Serbian player during the Eagles’ World Cup qualifiers, which won’t surprise followers of the 21-year-old’s club form. The impetuous tackler can often let his enthusiasm spill over and he has been cautioned five times in 17 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga and Champions League for RB Salzburg this term.
Beside Pavlovic, Nikola Milenkovic is also a hard-hitting operator and the 25-year-old committed more fouls per 90 than the majority of his teammates in qualification fixtures.
One of Nemanja Gudelj (two cards) or Sasa Lukic (2.6 fouls p/90) should be named as Serbia’s midfield destroyer today and both enforcers carry decent card potential.
Neymar was fouled a bone-bruising 5.00 times per 90 in Brazil’s South American qualifiers and the 30-year-old’s positional drifting should put him within kicking range of both defenders and midfielders today. Milenkovic and one of Gudelj or Lukic (depending on who starts), could be the ones taking aim.
Tricky winger Raphinha (fouled 2.34 times p/90) will hope to isolate Serbia’s left-sided centre half this evening. Foul merchant Pavlovic could be the unlucky one deployed there later on and his penchant for a hacking tackle could land him in trouble with the officials.
Match-Ups to watch
Nikola Milenkovic vs Neymar
Strahinja Pavlovic vs Raphinha
Nemanja Gudelj/Sasa Lukic vs Neymar