Brazil really caught the eye on Thursday when they danced their way to Group G victory over Serbia that was perhaps more dominant than the final 2-0 scoreline would suggest. Switzerland meanwhile, were typically dogged in their narrow triumph over Cameroon, though they will need to show more imagination to threaten the Brazilians today.
The Seleção can book their place in the World Cup’s knockout phase with a win against the Swiss at Stadium 974 this afternoon – but can Brazil weave the same matchday one magic without their injured talisman, Neymar?
You can dive into our stats pack for the game below which is packed with useful nuggets on shots, shots on target, goals, corners, cards and more from the teams’ qualification journeys and opening World Cup group fixtures. Use the data in conjunction with my Stats Pack Guide to compile stronger bet builders for today’s tussle.
Brazil dominated from first minute to last against Serbia on matchday one and while Head Coach Tite would have preferred to name the same XI against Switzerland, Neymar’s injury will force him to get his thinking cap on.
With no obvious like-for-like replacement available for the 30-year-old superstar, Tite has made a slight tactical adjustment for this one. Lucas Paqueta has been deployed in a more advanced role, with Fred coming in to support Casemiro in what looks to be a solid double pivot.
Switzerland played with a flat back four in their slender 1-0 triumph over Cameroon on matchday one and though that performance wasn’t entirely convincing, Head Coach Murat Yakin is unlikely to revert to a five-man defence this afternoon.
Granit Xhaka and Remo Freuler should provide steel in midfield, while Ruben Vargas, Djibril Sow and Fabian Rieder will hope to open supply lines for lone striker Breel Embolo.
Serbia are no mugs, however, Brazil made them look decidedly second-rate last week and the 23 shots the Selecao clocked against the Balkan nation was the highest number of attempts mustered by any side on matchday one.
Brazil’s water-tight defending was a prominent characteristic of their qualification performances and they limited the Serbians to just 0.22 xG on Thursday.
Serbia collected three cards for overzealous tackles on their superior Brazilian opponents – a figure which fits snugly with Brazil’s cards against numbers from their qualifiers. Switzerland could be just as heavy-handed with the South Americans today.
Switzerland were determined defenders and modest attackers during their qualification surge and they needed just one second-half goal to see of Cameroon on matchday one at the Al Janoub Stadium.
However, that clean sheet wasn’t easily earned and the Swiss conceded more shots (8-7) and shots on target (5-3) than they racked up themselves against Cameroon.
Interestingly, Switzerland won more than twice as many corners as Brazil during the teams’ qualification campaigns and it was a similar story on matchday one when the Swiss won 11 (vs Cameroon) to the Brazilian’s six (vs Serbia). There are some generous prices floating about for Switzerland in the corners market which might be worth your attention today.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Brazil peppered the Serbian goal on matchday one and incredibly, only two of their ten outfield players failed to notch an attempt. Neymar and Vinicius Junior racked up four shots each, while Richarlison and Casemiro were the next-best performers with three apiece.
With qualification metrics leader Neymar sidelined for the time being, expect Richarlison and Vinicius Junior to elbow their way to centre stage this afternoon. The bookies have adjusted their prices accordingly, however, so if you’re after better value, then you might be interested to learn that three of Brazil’s four defenders had shots against Serbia on matchday one.
Brazil could probably name two different four-man frontlines that would contain more star quality than Switzerland’s first-choice quartet. The limp Swiss attackers combined to trouble Cameroon with just two attempts on Thursday.
Holding midfielder Granit Xhaka (two) was the only player to have more than one shot against the Indomitable Lions, however, schemers Ruben Vargas and Xherdan Shaqiri – who offered a decent measure of threat during Switzerland’s World Cup qualifiers – were unable to find their range.
Xhaka’s efforts against Cameroon were both struck from distance and his new more-attacking remit at club level for Arsenal this season seems to have upped his confidence in that department. The 30-year-old could be an interesting option in the shot markets today.
Player Goals and Assists
Neymar finished Brazil’s qualification campaign with 16 goal contributions (8G, 8A), though the 30-year-old didn’t get in on the act against Serbia. Two-goal hero Richarlison stole the show instead and his spectacular second was his 9th goal in his last seven appearances for the Seleção.
Vinicius Junior claimed an assist for Richarlison’s deadlock-breaker and the Real Madrid winger played a game-high four key passes overall, which suggests the 22-year-old could have the keys to unlock the Serbian defence today.
Breel Embolo was Switzerland’s match-winner against Cameroon and while netting against the country of his birth was a hugely emotional moment for the 25-year-old, the strike will have super-charged his confidence.
Embolo chipped in with six goal contributions for the Swiss during World Cup qualification fixtures and the Monaco star seems the likeliest to sniff out and convert a chance for Switzerland today. Embolo has now rattled the net on each of his last three competitive appearances for his country.
Elsewhere, pickings are slim, though Xherdan Shaqiri did manage to create Embolo’s goal despite being lost on the periphery of the action for the most part. The 31-year-old was Switzerland’s prime goal-creator during qualification (four).
Brazil committed just seven fouls in total and subsequently avoided the wrath of the officials completely against Serbia on matchday one, though there are a couple of areas laced with slightly heightened card potential this afternoon.
Switzerland like to attack the flanks whenever possible and 71% of their forays forward against Cameroon came down either the right or left wing. That approach could put pressure on Brazilian fullbacks Danilo and Alex Sandro today, who have been cautioned nine times between them at club level this term.
Centre-half Marquinhos, who was booked three times in qualification contests, might have to sharpen his cynical edge to cope with a confident Breel Embolo.
Swiss winger Ruben Vargas was his team’s most-fouled player during the World Cup qualification phase and though he was only halted in his tracks once against Cameroon, he could be hit harder today by Danilo.
On the opposite side, Xherdan Shaqiri – who was felled twice against Cameroon – could draw some similarly zesty challenges from the aggressive Alex Sandro.
More centrally, Thursday’s goal-scoring hero Breel Embolo (fouled 1.35 times p/90 during qualification) could be on the end of some robust tackles from Marquinhos.
Match-Ups to watch
Danilo vs Danilo
Alex Sandro vs Xherdan Shaqiri
Marquinhos vs Breel Embolo
Swiss centre-halves Manuel Akanji and Nico Elvedi picked up a caution each against Cameroon and both defenders could be at risk again today against a livewire Brazilian attack.
To their left, however, Ricardo Rodriguez could be worth picking out. The 30-year-old committed four fouls against Cameroon but somehow avoided a card. He might not be quite so fortunate today.
Remo Freuler gave away two free kicks in the same game and his tenacity in midfield should push his foul count high again this afternoon.
Neymar was Brazil’s most-fouled player by a stretch in the South American qualification phase and a whopping nine free kicks were awarded for mistimed challenges on the 30-year-old by Serbian players.
With Neymar nursing his bruises following that skirmish, we have to look elsewhere for Brazilians likely to draw cards today. Luckily, there are quite a few decent options to pick from.
Raphinha’s (fouled 2.34 times p/90 during qualifiers) head-to-head with matchday one hatchetman Rodriguez is of interest, while Richarlison’s in-your-face energy should unsettle Akanji. A little further back, Lucas Paqueta’s (1.58) ingenuity in possession should make him a target for Frueler in midfield.
Match-Ups to watch
Manuel Akanji vs Richarlison
Remo Freuler vs Lucas Paqueta
Ricardo Rodriguez vs Raphinha