Brazil v Serbia preview: Willian starts despite poor form

Willian will keep his place in Brazil’s attack against Serbia (Mowa Press)

Brazil play Serbia on Wednesday evening. A few final thoughts before the game.

Thanks to their late show against Costa Rica on Friday, Brazil need only a draw in their last group game against Serbia to qualify for the knockout phases. They currently top Group E, ahead of Switzerland on goal difference, with Serbia one point behind. Costa Rica have nothing to play for and have already booked their tickets home.

The winner of Brazil’s group will play the runner up from Group F in the next round. Currently, it looks like that will be Germany. There is a slim chance it could be Mexico or Sweden, but that would require Sweden to beat Mexico or Germany to drop points against South Korea. I don’t see either of those happening, although we will know for sure at 5pm, UK since both matches in that group kick off at 3pm today (11am Brazil or 5pm Moscow).

Assuming Germany do finish second, should Brazil try and avoid them in the next round by finishing second in their group and playing for a draw against Serbia? I’d certainly rather play Sweden or Mexic, and I imagine some Brazil players would too. That might be a good idea in theory but in practise that’s not not really how it works, is it?

Serbia will be playing for their life and if Brazil were to lose against Serbia, and Switzerland pick up points against Costa Rica then Brazil would be out. The margin for error is very fine so playing for a draw would be a hugely risky strategy. Imagine Brazil were drawing with Serbia, had controlled the entire game, concede a corner in the last minute and a towering Matic header gives Serbia a goal against the run of play. Given the stakes for both sides today, this is not the same situation as England v Belgium, who will both rest players in their match tomorrow.

After a lot of speculation earlier in the week, Tite has confirmed that Brazil’s starting line up will be unchanged against Serbia. That means Willian will keep his place in the attack, even though he has been poor in the first two games. I have been a bit disappointed with Gabriel Jesus and Paulinho too. The coach doesn’t like to tinker much with his team: he believes in the players in his starting line up and thinks that the more they play together the more chance they have of clicking. Stubborn? Perhaps, but you can see where he is coming from. Lets hope that the starters repay his faith.

I’m glad that he hasn’t made a defensive move and replaced Willian with Fernandinho as many people had expected; not only would that have meant Philippe Countinho moving out to the right, where he is less effective, but I also think it would have sent out the wrong message. Finally, I think that Brazil have played okay in the first two matches so it is not a bad idea to persist with the team in the hope that the attack finally clicks today.

Neymar came in for a lot of criticism in following his performance and antics against Costa Rica. Some of the critics pointed to his tears at the final whistle as evidence of his immaturity. I disagree and defended the player on social media: he is an emotional guy, who has been through a lot to get where he is, so let him cry. Those tears were not staged: he isn’t a Hollywood actor, he is a footballer who wears his heart on his sleeve. We’ve seen many tears from CR7 over the years – I wonder if the same people who are criticising Neymar now, have forgotten about that? I did criticise Neymar’s decision making during that match though.

Either way, I’ve watched some replays of incidents in the Costa Rica match and listened to some of the Brazilian pundits since then. And while I don’t have any issue with Neymar’s tears, I do think his behaviour against Costa Rica was poor. He was arguing unnecessarily with the ref, booked for dissent and generally acted like a drama queen.

He does get fouled a lot and he does need protection from referees. But Neymar needs to focus on his game. Clearly he was frustrated against Costa Rica, but those antics showed a lack of emotional control – the same lack of control that cost Brazil at the last World Cup! Tite and Neymar need to sort it out. The word is that Neymar is in much better spirits now. No doubt he has been lifted by his goal and the three points against Costa Rica. That said, when the going gets tough once again – which it will at some point in this competition – Neymar, and the rest of Brazil’s players, need to keep it together.

Russia 2018 World Cup. Spartak Stadium. Moscow. Neymar

Neymar – in a better place now? (Mowa Press)

Last but not least, there has been great support for the team from Brazil fans. Here they are, in a party mood, as the team arrived at their hotel in Moscow on Monday night. Lets hope that their party mood continues.

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One thought on “Brazil v Serbia preview: Willian starts despite poor form

  1. I forgot to add that Douglas Costa probably would have taken Willian’s place, given his excellent performance against Costa Rica when coming on as a sub. Unfortunately though, Costa picked up an injury in that match and is unvailable for the match against Serbia today. He stayed at Brazil’s training base in Sochi and didn’t travel with the team to Moscow. It isn’t clear how long he will be injured for and whether he will miss any subsequent games, should Brazil progress.

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