The World Cup hasn’t truly started until Brazil come to the party and they face a stubborn if unimaginative Switzerland first up in Russia.
Neymar, fully fit after his injury worry, leads a scary looking line-up but the Swiss have a habit of making things tricky – having conceded just seven goals in 10 qualification games.
Below, we outline some of the key tactical points set to play out in the Rostov Arena on Sunday.
NEYMAR’S A SPACEMAN
Possessing one of the world’s best footballers does not make for a particularly exciting team – as Lionel Messi‘s Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo‘s Portugal (well, at least before that draw) can prove.
Brazil are excitement in its purest form – but that’s not all because of Neymar. Coach Tite is savvy enough to know that he’s been blessed with far more than just one crown jewel.
“If the ball arrives to Neymar, they mark [him],” Tite once explained. “But the other side is more exposed … we take Neymar to one side, let him be isolated and make room for another.”
Flick back through Brazil’s 3-0 friendly win over Austria and you can tell exactly what he means. It was almost comical at times as Neymar, Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus drew a horde of defenders down the left, giving Willian the freedom of Vienna on the right.
Switzerland must not be drawn like moths to the flame and they shouldn’t be, given their heavily structured play. But expect Willian and Paulinho to be on your screens as much as Neymar and Coutinho nevertheless.
NO SWISS ROLLOVER
The Swiss will trot out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, their shape almost exclusively under Vladimir Petkovic over the last four years. If he could get away without playing a central striker he’d be glad to, such are their paucity of options up front.
The key area against Brazil will be the double pivot screening a generally sturdy defence as effectively as possible in the face of the Brazilian artillery.
Enter Granit Xhaka. His name has elicited enough groans from Arsenal fans over the last two years but with Switzerland, he is a far more commanding presence when alongside a player who frees him of some of the more onerous defensive duties.
Will that be Valon Behrami, the old warrior, or new kid on the block Denis Zakaria? Zakaria, of Xhaka’s old club Borussia Monchengladbach, is more mobile but has discipline problems – just like Xhaka. It’ll be interesting to see who Petkovic chooses.
WIDE OF THE MARK
Brazil are not without their imperfections. In fact, they were lucky not to concede in that victory over Austria and of particular worry is their wing-backs.
In the first half Austria peppered the Brazilians from both the left and the right as uninterested trackers and an out-of-position Fagner and Marcelo suffered deeply with overlaps.
Marcelo has always blown hot and cold with his defensive duties though his talents on the attack more than make up for it – usually.
But there should be concern over Danilo, starting at right-back after Dani Alves was ruled out due to injury. He is about the only player not to have enjoyed a fine debut season for an all-conquering Manchester City in the Premier League last year.
The only alternative is Fagner, an excessively diminutive option who has barely had exposure to club football outside of Brazil. The likes of Ricardo Rodriguez and the talented Breel Embolo could pick at this particular scab on Brazil’s right.
While Ronaldo scored a hat-trick to help Portugal salvage a 3-3 draw against Spain, Messi’s penalty miss meant Argentina were held at 1-1 by Iceland.
“You can’t compare Messi with Ronaldo,” Silva said on Sunday.
“We have a leader, he’s with us and he must do what he must do. He has to help us as best as he can.”
“The result was positive,” he added.
“It wasn’t the one that we expected though, but still we tried not to lose the game. That’s what was most important for us.
“We did our best at every moment. Spain tried to change the course of the game but we resisted well so we feel good about it.”
The Real Madrid forward scored the 51st hat-trick in World Cup history and became just the fourth player to score at four different editions of the tournament.
Ronaldo is aiming for adding a World Cup medal to his list of achievements and Russia is likely to be the 33-year-old’s last chance at glory.
“It would be more difficult without him but he’s on our side and we hope he continues to be with us, so why speculate on something like that?” the Leicester City star said.
“Apart from everything else he sets a good example for all of us to follow. Not only during the game but with how he behaves and what sort of person he is.”
Mohamed Salah is set to make his World Cup debut for Egypt against Russia in their Group A game on Tuesday.
The Liverpool forward, who scored 44 goals last season, sat out his country’s 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Friday despite his coach Hector Cuper declaring him “almost 100 per cent fit” to play after injuring his shoulder in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid.
Salah, who turned 26 on Friday, trained with his team-mates on Saturday ahead of their crunch game with the hosts who started their World Cup by beating Saudi Arabia 5-0.
The player’s agent Ramy Abbas Issa let the world know Salah was ready to feature against the Russians by tweeting: “Mohamed is fit.”
The official FIFA Egypt Twitter account confirmed Salah’s return to full fitness when they tweeted on Saturday: “Salah participated in training with his team-mates for the entire session and he is ready to play against Russia according to technical staff.
“Salah did not ask to play against Uruguay. Russia’s game is fateful and difficult because of our defeat against Uruguay. Winning is our only choice.”
Egypt need to take at least a point against Russia to keep their hopes of reaching the knock-out stages alive.