Costa Rica, surprise quarter-finalists in Brazil four years ago, start their World Cup 2018 campaign against Serbia.
Samara Arena, Samara, Russian Federation
Key Stat: Serbia (including all its former guises) have never lost to North American opposition at the World Cup.
Expert Verdict: Costa Rica were the surprise package of the 2014 World Cup, despite being drawn into a group with Italy, Uruguay and England. Having only won two of their last ten matches, however, they are certainly not heading to the World Cup in any form. Serbia, by contrast, beat Bolivia 5-1 in their final warm-up match and will be confident of maintaining their unbeaten World Cup record against North American opposition.
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Quarter-finalists last time out, Costa Rica meet Serbia in the opening fixture in Group E at the 2018 World Cup. Los Ticos have never faced Serbia, or any of its former guises, meaning the match in Samara’s Cosmos Arena will be their first clash. Taking place on Sunday June 17, the match kicks off at 4pm local time.
Bryan Ruiz made a goalscoring return to the Costa Rica team against Belgium, but a 4-1 defeat in Brussels left Los Ticos with more questions than answers. Ruiz will feature in the front three, as will Marco Urena and probably Joel Campbell, while Celso Borges has the defensive midfield slot seemingly nailed down as David Guzman and Yeltsin Tejede compete to play alongside him. At the back, only Giancarlo Gonzalez played both of the last two warm-up matches.
Captain Bryan Ruiz has scored 24 goals in 110 international appearances following his strike against Belgium. Striker Marco Urena has 15 on the international stage in 64 games. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas plays fresh from Real Madrid’s Champions League win at the other end of the pitch.
Costa Rica team have won just two of their last ten games, losing six of the last eight. They started their final World Cup warm-ups by beating Northern Ireland 3-0 – Johan Venegas, Joel Campbell and Francisco Calvo scoring – but have lost two tough friendlies since landing in Europe. England won 2-0 in Leeds, before Belgium beat Los Ticos 4-1 in Brussels after Bryan Ruiz had opened the scoring for the visitors.
Defenders:Kendall Waston, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Oscar Duarte
Midfielders:Cristian Gamboa, Celso Borges, David Guzman, Bryan Oviedo
Forwards:Bryan Ruiz, Marco Urena, Joel Campbell
Branislav Ivanovic’s goalscoring return to the Serbia line-up for the win against Bolivia could see him start ahead of Antonio Rukavina in Samara. Serbia also have options in the middle of midfield – Nemanja Matic and Sergei Milinkovic-Savic started in the win against Boliva, whereas it was Luka Milivojevic and Marko Grujic for the defeat against Chile.
Aleksandar Mitrovic scored a hat-trick as Serbia beat Boliva 5-1, as well as setting up Branislav Ivanovic’s goal, to add to the two he scored against Nigeria in March. Adam Ljajic also provided two assists against Bolivia and a goal to cement his place in the second striker role. Serbia boast experience at the back, meanwhile – Aleksandar Kolarov was a Champions League semi-finalist with Roma this season, while Ivanovic boasts stacks of experience from his years with Chelsea.
Serbia Football team geared up for the World Cup in style, as Aleksandar Mitrovic’s hat-trick helped them to a 5-1 win against Bolivia in their final warm-up game. It was the perfect response to a 1-0 defeat to Chile five days earlier, and ensured Serbia have won two of their last three games as they also beat Nigeria in March – Mitrovic having scored two on that occasion.
Defenders:Branislav Ivanovic, Nikola Milenkovic, Dusko Tosic, Aleksandar Kolarov
Defensive Midfielders:Nemanja Matic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic
Attacking Midfielders:Dusan Tadic, Adam Ljajic, Filip Kostic
Costa Rica and Serbia have never previously met, in any of the latter’s previous guises. Serbia have never lost to North American opposition at the World Cup, however – beating Mexico, Honduras and USA in previous tournaments as Yugoslovia and as Serbia & Montenengro.
Costa Rica have won just two of their last ten matches
Serbia have never lost to North American opposition at the World Cup
Aleksandar Mitrovic has scored five goals in his last three matches for Serbia
Bryan Ruiz needs one more goal for Costa Rica, after netting twice in the run to the quarter-finals last time out, to level the national World Cup goals record.
Costa Rica head to the World Cup in poor form, with only two wins – against Northern Ireland and Scotland – in their last ten matches in all competitions.
Serbia, by contrast, and particularly striker Aleksandar Mitrovic, are in good shape – fresh from helping to fire Fulham into the Premier League, Mitrovic scored a hat-trick against Boliva to take his tally to five goals in his last three international appearances.
Costa Rica do have experience – the likes of Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz, for example – but that is matched by a Serbia side who boast the likes of Branislav Ivanovic and Aleksandar Kolarov in defence.
Costa Rica’s recent defeats against difficult opposition in England and Belgium are not the end of the world, but they have also lost to Panama, Hungary and Tunisia in this current rut.
It leaves Serbia as favourites to win – and win they must if they want to challenge Switzerland for the second qualification spot behind Brazil in Group E.
With Mitrovic in top form, a great depth to their midfield options and a defence packed with experience, however, Serbia should live up to their tag as favourites for their opening game on Sunday.
Serbia are odds-on favourites to beat Costa Rica on Sunday, and you can back them to beat Costa Rica at 10/11 with Bet365, Betfair and Betway.
Aleksandar Mitrovic is in top form in front of goal, for club and country, and he is a generous 13/8 to score at any time with 888sport despite five goals in his last three Serbia appearances.
Of Costa Rica’s recent run of six defeats in eight games, four of those losses have been to nil – you can bet against both teams to score at 4/6 with Ladbrokes and Betfair, or back Serbia to win to nil at 7/4 with Bet365 and Ladbrokes.
Serbia are in far better form than Costa Rica have been lately, and Aleksandar Mitrovic is very much their dangerman with five goals in three games. Los Ticos were the surprise package last time out, but their recent results do not inspire much confidence.