Brazil has arrived in Qatar as the only nation in World Cup history to have qualified for every tournament since the first edition back in 1930 following a record-breaking CONMEBOL qualification campaign, collecting more points (45) than ever before after winning 14 and drawing three of their 17 matches.
The Selecao rarely struggle in qualifying and they have had few problems in the group stage over the years too, as they are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group fixtures since losing 2-1 to Norway back in 1998.
However, 20 years have passed since Brazil got their hands on their fifth World Cup in Seoul and the pressure is on Tite’s talented squad – ranked number one in the world by FIFA – to live up to the pre-tournament hype and improve on their quarter-final exit against Belgium four years ago.
Serbia will be the first nation to put Brazil’s credentials to the test, but the Selecao are oozing confidence ahead of Thursday’s encounter as they boast a 15-game unbeaten run across all competitions, winning each of their last seven in the process by an aggregate score of 26-2.
Brazil won both of their previous two meetings against Serbia without conceding, and a slender 1-0 defeat to South American rivals Argentina in the 2021 Copa America final was the last time that Tite’s men suffered defeat in any competition.
After crashing out in the group stage at their previous three World Cup finals since gaining independence in 1990, there is a sense of optimism that Serbia can finally reach the knockout rounds for the first time in Qatar.
The Eagles, ranked 25th in the world by FIFA, impressed in UEFA qualifying and topped their group after winning six and drawing two of their eight matches, including a last-gasp 2-1 triumph over Portugal in their final fixture.
Dragan Stojkovic’s side then secured promotion to League A of the UEFA Nations League earlier this year, courtesy of four wins and a draw from six matches. Indeed, the slender 1-0 defeat against Norway in June is one of only two losses suffered in their last 16 internationals across all competitions.
The form on European soil has been impressive, but transferring that onto the global stage is the task that Stojkovic and co are now faced with, and they could not begin their World Cup campaign against a more daunting prospect than five-time world champions Brazil.
Serbia has lost seven of their nine World Cup matches in total, the most defeats by any European nation and just one less than Australia’s unwanted record of eight, and a resilient performance is required if they wish to claim at least a draw on Thursday.
Brazil boss Tite is set to have a fully-fit squad available for Thursday’s contest, with Antony, Bruno Guimaraes, and Alex Telles all recovering from minor problems.
If reports are to be believed, the Selecao could deploy either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 formation, with captain Thiago Silva starting in the back four alongside Danilo, Marquinhos and Alex Sandro, shielding first-choice goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Casemiro and Lucas Paqueta are the two most likely candidates to line up in center-midfield, while starman Neymar could operate in the number 10 role on either side of wingers Raphinha and Vinicius Junior.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Richarlison, who has recovered from a calf strain in time for the World Cup, is set to be given the nod ahead of Arsenal’s Gabriel Jesus to lead the line.
As for Serbia, Aleksandar Mitrovic has not fully recovered from an ankle injury and is expected to begin on the substitutes’ bench, with Luka Jovic in line to start up front alongside Dusan Vlahovic.
Stojkovic is set to revert to a three-man defense after lining up with four at the back in the 5-1 friendly win over Bahrain last week, with Strahinja Pavlovic hoping to join Nikola Milenkovic and Stefan Mitrovic at center-back.
All three defenders could be tasked with shielding goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic, who is expected to start between the sticks ahead of Marko Dmitrovic and Predrag Rajkovic despite having won only seven caps for the national team.
Sevilla’s Nemanja Gudelj is poised to start in center-midfield alongside Lazio star Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, with Andrija Zivkovic and Filip Kostic providing width as wing-backs, while captain Dusan Tadic is set to start in the number 10 role.
Brazil vs Serbia Prediction
Brazil has an excellent squad at their disposal and will be intent on making the perfect start to their World Cup campaign. With Neymar, Raphinha, and Vinicius Junior in their ranks, the Selecao will likely field a lethal forward line in their first game of the tournament.
Serbia has pulled off a fair share of upsets over the past year and will need to play out of their skins to keep their opponents at bay. Brazil is the better team on paper, however, and should be able to win this game.
Prediction: Brazil to win in this match.