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Serbia and Swiss set to fight it out in group behind Brazil

Brazil’s quest to win a record-extending sixth World Cup crown in Qatar will begin against familiar opposition, with Serbia and Switzerland having also come up against the Selecao four years ago in Russia.

What has the look of a relatively kind draw for Brazil will also see them face Cameroon, who have a proud World Cup history but may struggle to make a big impact this time.

Tite’s Brazil, in contrast, are the favourites going into the tournament and will be expected to negotiate Group G without too many problems before facing possibly Portugal or old rivals Uruguay in the last 16.

Brazil kicked off their 2018 campaign with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland before 2-0 wins against Costa Rica and Serbia, but they never really hit the heights expected of them before being eliminated by Belgium in the quarter-finals.

They come into this World Cup fresh from an unbeaten qualifying campaign, with a squad led by Neymar but with fearsome quality in all positions.

However, the big question surrounds their lack of recent experience against leading European sides.

Since winning their fifth title in Japan in 2002, they have been knocked out at subsequent World Cups by France, the Netherlands, Germany and then Belgium.

However, they have played just one match against European opposition since their 2018 elimination, winning a friendly against the Czech Republic.

“I’m expectant but focused. We reached the World Cup: now it’s time to reach the final and be champions. This is the truth,” Tite said in an interview with The Guardian earlier this year.

Brazil’s opening match this time will be against Serbia, who failed to qualify for Euro 2020 but under new coach Dragan Stojkovic topped their qualifying group ahead of Portugal.

Serbia have not gone beyond the group stage at the World Cup in their last three attempts but have a real chance this time with a squad bristling with talent in forward areas.

The big star is Juventus forward Dusan Vlahovic, but Aleksandar Mitrovic is enjoying a fine season in the Premier League with Fulham, while they also boast Luka Jovic and Ajax’s Dusan Tadic.

Behind them, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio also offers a goal threat from midfield.

Cameroon to cause a surprise?

The final group game between Serbia and Switzerland has the makings of a decider to see who will advance with Brazil, as the Swiss attempt to at least match their runs to the last 16 in 2014 and 2018.

They knocked France out of Euro 2020 on penalties before only losing in the quarter-finals to Spain in a shoot-out.

Murat Yakin has since taken over as coach from Vladimir Petkovic and Switzerland caused another upset in qualifying as they topped their group ahead of European champions Italy, who then failed to come through a play-off.

Then there is Cameroon, who were beaten 4-1 by a Neymar-inspired Brazil in a miserable 2014 campaign as they went home having lost all three group games.

The Indomitable Lions, whose run to the quarter-finals in 1990 has not been bettered by an African representative at a World Cup, then failed to qualify four years ago.

This year has seen them lose in the semi-finals of their own Africa Cup of Nations before Rigobert Song took charge of the team and led them to a dramatic play-off win over Algeria to return to the World Cup.

“The past is the past. There is a new dynamic now, with new people in charge,” Song, whose old international teammate Samuel Eto’o is now president of the Cameroonian Football Federation, told FIFA.com recently.

Song is determined to make sure that their campaign is not overshadowed as it was in 2014, when players rowed over bonuses and Benoit Assou-Ekotto headbutted team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo during a 4-0 defeat by Croatia.

“I can tell you we will not be faced with the same problems that we had in Brazil,” added Song.

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