A World Cup preview, with predictions for Group E, which features Brazil, Costa Rica, Serbia and Switzerland and opens play on Sunday with Brazil vs. Switzerland and Costa Rica vs. Serbia.
Predicted order of finish: Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia, Costa Rica
Brazil did not just fall short of winning the World Cup on home ground four years ago, a grand disappointment in itself. Selecao was humiliated in the semifinals by eventual champion Germany, 7-1, rivaling the despair caused by the home defeat to Uruguay in the 1950 final.
Four years have concealed, if not fully healed, old wounds, and on the heels of a stellar qualifying campaign, Brazil is back in the championship conversation.
"We have a chance to play another World Cup," captain Thiago Silva said, "and rewrite our story."
No one has a better story than Brazil, which has raised the most World Cup trophies (five) and takes immense pride in the manner in which it plays. The aim is to both win and entertain, a duality that for decades made it the envy of the soccer world. The program has also had to adapt to evolving global tactics, often at the cost of style points.
Few on the world's stage play the game with the artistry of Neymar, the superstar in a race against time to regain full fitness and form after recovering from a foot injury.
Brazil is about more than Neymar. The midfield features Willian (Chelsea) and two Barcelona players, Philippe Coutinho and Paulinho. The front-line riches include Liverpool's Roberto Firmino and Manchester City's Gabriel Jesus, 21.
Switzerland and Serbia will vie for second place, though Costa Rica shocked a more difficult group four years ago. The Swiss have risen to No. 6 in the FIFA rankings and have designs on their first quarterfinal appearance since 1954.
Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbia has remained an incubator for high-end players. Oddly, that just hasn't translated into success for the national team, which has faltered twice at the World Cup and failed to qualify for the European Championship.
Aleksandar Mitrovic, 23, helped Fulham gain promotion by scoring 12 goals. He also had six goals in nine World Cup qualifiers.
Costa Rica was a delight in 2014, topping England, Italy and Uruguay in group play and reaching the quarterfinals before falling to the Netherlands on penalty kicks. The task remains tall, however, and Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas will have to be at his world-class best.
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