World Cup Preview - Group G

24.11.2022 09:44:49 Bradley Lobo
Neymar of Brazil

Switzerland

The Lowdown

Switzerland will compete at a fifth consecutive World Cup for the first time in their history. They have progressed past the group stage on three of the last four occasions but a strong showing at Euro 2020 where they knocked out world champions France and only lost to Spain on penalties in the quarter-finals. This has given their supporters hope of a prolonged run at the world’s greatest sporting spectacle. The Swiss also helped deny Italy qualification by finishing above the reigning European champions in their group, so optimism is high.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Murat Yakin – Brought in from the cold after managing in the Swiss second tier. Yakin’s last tangible success came around a decade ago when he won back-to-back titles with Basel in the top flight. Brought in to replace Vladimir Petkovic after the last Euros, Yakin proved his worth in qualifying. His switch to a back-four saw the Swiss concede just 1 goal in his 6 qualification matches in charge. The team is built on a solid defensive base with the ability to control possession in midfield and also spring counter-attacks with the pace of Breel Embolo up front.

 

The Captain

Grant Xhaka – enjoying the best period of his career at Arsenal playing in a more advanced box-to-box midfield role and already matching his highest ever total of goals for the club in a single season. Xhaka clashed with Gunners fans and was stripped of the captaincy in 2019 but has showed incredible resilience, maturity and professionalism to return from the abyss. He has almost always turned up for his country and been one of their standout performers.

 

The Key Man

Xherdan Shaqiri

At one time dubbed “The Alpine Messi”, the 31-year-old now plays in the MLS having failed to live up to that initial tag on a consistent basis. Xhaqiri’s talent saw him signed by some of the biggest clubs in the world, but he was never able to establish himself. He remains the X-factor in this otherwise functional Swiss group capable of exploding out of nowhere with magical moments

 

The One to Watch

Yann Sommer – while the Swiss defence has some fine players like Manchester City’s Manuel Akanji, it’s often their goalkeeper that bails them out of trouble. Sommer kept out a Kylian Mbappe penalty to send his country through to their first ever quarter-final at a major international tournament. He then almost single-handedly dragged them into the semi-finals with a Euro 2020 high of 10 saves in the match against Spain, 8 of them coming in extra-time after his side were down to ten men. Sommer also holds the Bundesliga record for most saves in a single game with 19 for Borussia Monchengladbach against Bayern Munich. A brick wall.

 

Verdict

3rdlooks set to be between them and Serbia for the second qualifying spot in this group but the lack of a clinical centre-forward may hurt the Swiss in that battle.

 

Cameroon

The Lowdown

Cameroon legend Samuel Eto’o has made some rather outlandish statements since his retirement from the game but perhaps none more bullish than proclaiming that his nation - not only can – but WILL win the World Cup! The former Barcelona striker is now president of the Cameroonian Football Federation and while it’s great to have confidence, such a prediction seems unrealistic given the group they have been drawn in. The Indomitable Lions didn’t even make it to the last finals in 2018 and failed to win the African Cup of Nations on home soil earlier this year. Cameroon did impress in qualification for Qatar eliminating a talented Ivory Coast in the group stage and overcoming a fancied Algerian side over two legs with a dramatic extra-time away win.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Rigobert Song – a bonafide legend of Cameroonian football having made the most appearances for his country as a player with 137 caps. The ex-defender played at four World Cups and a record eight African Cup of Nations finals – captaining the side at five of them and winning two. Such is Song’s standing in his homeland, his appointment as national team manager was made on orders from the President of Cameroon. He started his tenure playing with two strikers in a traditional 4-4-2 formation but has experimented with more of a 4-3-3 recently which turns into a 4-5-1 to give more defensive solidity when out of possession. A team built on physical power and direct attacks, but a lack of flair may cost them.

 

The Captain

Vincent Aboubakar – the most capped player in the current squad with 91 appearances and the highest scorer with 31 goals. Aboubakar is joint-3rd on the all-time scoring list for Cameroon behind only two legends in Eto’o and Roger Milla. The striker has had impressive goal records at top teams like Porto and Beşiktaş, before making a big money move to Saudi Arabia. The 30-year-old striker proved that his career wasn’t winding down when he struck 8 goals in just 7 games at the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

 

The Key Man

André-Frank Zambo Anguissa had a disappointing spell at Fulham in the Premier League where he was utilised as more of a sitting defensive-midfielder. A move to Napoli has seen him develop into a box-to-box powerhouse. One of the standout performers in a side that is dominating Serie A and impressing in the Champions League too. Anguissa has often played as the single-pivot for his country but Song would be wise to take the shackles off him.

 

The One to Watch

Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting - a figure of ridicule in some circles after he was signed by PSG having only scored 5 goals in the Premier League for a Stoke side that was relegated. The striker has gone on to prove the doubters wrong. He came off the bench to score a crucial winning goal in a Champions League quarter-final for PSG aiding their push to the final against Bayern Munich in 2020. The German giants then drafted in Choupo-Moting as a back-up to Robert Lewandowski, but he has now become a direct replacement. In blistering form coming into the World Cup with 12 goals in his last 13 games for club and country.

 

Verdict

4thFinishing 2nd  behind Brazil would be a massive achievement but they don’t have as much overall quality as the other two teams in the group.

 

Brazil 

The Lowdown

The country synonymous with football and the World Cup. Brazil have lifted the Jules Rimet trophy five times, more than any other team. That said a 20-year gap since their last triumph is far too long for a nation of such pedigree. The Seleção are simply always at the World Cup and qualified for their 22nd appearance with typical ease topping the South American section unbeaten (W14 D3). A disappointing quarter-final exit to Belgium in 2018 will need to be improved on this time around with a much deeper squad. The Samba Boys are the favourites and with good reason.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Tite retained his position despite the quarter-final exit at Russia 2018 and went on to justify that decision by winning the Copa America on home soil the following year. Brazil failed to repeat the trick in 2021 when they were beaten at home in the final by bitter rivals Argentina. Tite will be hoping that it’s just another setback that paves the way for a comeback in Qatar. The manager has confirmed he will leave after the tournament so this will be his last chance. Everyone knows how the Brazilian fans demand their teams play and this side is no different but perhaps an underrated aspect of this new generation is how hard they work out of possession.

 

The Captain

Thiago Silva may not be as quick as he was at 38 years old but he more than makes up for that with his intelligence and positional sense. One of the classiest defenders of his generation, he will hope to follow in the footsteps of previous great Brazilian captains by lifting the World Cup, the one major trophy that has eluded him in a stellar career.

 

The Key Man

Neymar – The Golden Boy of Brazilian football is now 30 years of age and appears to have finally tempered the ego, flashy showboating and histrionics. Neymar has put aside rumours of an off-field feud with PSG teammate Kylian Mbappe to show maturity and leadership on the pitch. He has been ruthlessly efficient with 15 goals and 12 assists in just 20 games across all competitions for his club. One of the best players on the planet at the peak of his powers going into a World Cup and with the added motivation of overtaking the great Pelé as his country’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

 

The One to Watch

Vinícius Júnior - Another player who has grown in stature and just come off the best season of his career so far. The explosive 22-year-old forward was instrumental in Real Madrid’s double-winning campaign – including scoring the winner in the Champions League final. He will hope to produce similar clutch moments in Qatar.

 

Verdict

1stThere are some tricky games in this group but Brazil have elite level talents in all areas of the pitch and should finish top.

 

Serbia 

The Lowdown

Serbia will be looking to improve on recent World Cup performances which have seen them go out at the group stage and it looks like they could have the squad to achieve that. The Eagles will be looking for revenge against Brazil and Switzerland who eliminated them at the first hurdle in Russia four years ago. The Serbs are a much improved unit coming to Qatar having gone unbeaten (W8 D2) and topped a qualification group that contained Portugal. An exciting squad with an array of attacking talent could make a big impact on the world stage.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Dragan Stojković - a legend in his homeland as a player having completed over a century of games for Red Star Belgard. ‘Piski’ - as he is affectionately known competed at two World Cups and was named in the All-Star Team at the end of Italia 90. He finished his career at Nagoya Grampus Eight under Arsene Wenger who would earmark him as a future replacement in the Arsenal dugout. Indeed, Stojković hails the legendary Gunners boss as an inspiration for him to get into coaching and he follows a similar footballing philosophy of wanting to play with style. Serbia set up with a 3-man backline and have many ways to hurt teams going forward whether it’s through the creativity in their midfield or their flying wingbacks who provide a steady supply of crosses for two powerful strikers.

 

The Captain

Dušan Tadić embodies the phrase “form is temporary, class is permanent”. A four-year stint in the Premier League with Southampton started brightly but quickly fizzled out towards the end and at 30 years old, Tadić appeared to be on the decline. A return to Holland with Ajax then completely revitalised his career and he was an integral part in the Dutch giants’ run to the Champions League semi-finals. He would go on to score a staggering 38 goals across all competitions in his first season at the club having failed to achieve double figures in any season at Southampton. He also bagged 23 assists which was less surprising due to his pedigree as a midfield player with sublime vision and passing ability. The numbers have subsided slightly in recent years, but he remains a massive influence for club and country.

 

The Key Man

Sergej Milinković-Savić - another midfield maestro in the Serbian squad. Milinković-Savić is one of the most complete players in his position in world football. At 6ft4, he is physically imposing and has terrific aerial power, but can also move like a ballerina with the ball at his feet. “The Seargent” failed to make an impression at the last World Cup but has matured and become a real leader at Lazio since then.

 

The One to Watch

Dušan Vlahović will make his debut at a major international tournament and all the signs are that he won’t be overawed by the occasion. 49 goals in 108 games for Fiorentina saw him get a big money move to Juventus at just 22 years old. He scored on his Serie A debut for the Bianconeri and struck just 33 seconds into his first ever Champions League match. He has also hit 9 goals in 17 caps for his country. A predatory finisher and could form a deadly partnership with in-form Aleksandar Mitrovic up front.

 

Verdict

2ndSerbia's strongest squad in a generation and failure to reach the knockout stage would be a huge disappointment. 

 

 

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