Costa Rica and Serbia will be under no illusions as to what is at stake in this fixture. After being drawn alongside the most successful team in the history of the World Cup in Brazil, there is effectively only one knockout place available to the pair of them and Switzerland, meaning their games against each other are critical. Brazil have topped their World Cup group for the last nine consecutive tournaments, and they will make it ten in Russia.
The Central Americans will fancy their chances in this match considering they are traditionally great starters at the tournament. They are also in the middle of perhaps their best era in history – they absolutely crushed it in the 2014 World Cup by topping a group containing three former winners in Uruguay, England and Italy.
Costa Rica qualified for the event with games to spare in a below-average CONCACAF hexagonal that saw the USA eliminated on the final day. Rarely tested in their federation, it’s no surprise to see them return to the World Cup for the fifth time.
Serbia also performed well in qualifying, losing just once during their campaign. Despite leading the nation to their first competitive tournament since the 2010 World Cup, manager Slavoljub Muslin was sacked due to ongoing conflict with the Serbian FA president, and now the Balkan nation will need to start again under Mladen Krstajić.
Serbia have the stronger of the two squads on paper, boasting several notable European stars such as Manchester United’s Nemanja Matic and Roma’s veteran wing-back Aleksandar Kolarov. Costa Rica do have Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas to call upon in goal, and his influence was telling at the 2014 tournament where he conceded just twice in five matches.
Throughout qualification, Serbia were caught napping early in matches, before coming from behind to draw or win, and they simply cannot afford to do this against a Costa Rican side who can shut up shop at the back. Mind you, they have shown much more promise in the build up to this event, defeating a disappointing Bolivia side 5-1 in their final pre-tournament friendly.
It’s therefore no surprise to see the Europeans starting as fairly heavy favourites, priced at -113 to win the match. We are inclined to believe that Costa Rica will get something out of this match though, and feel as though the draw is the most likely result. You can get +227 for a stalemate, while Costa Rica are paying +347 for the win.
We’re going to pick a 1-1 result in this match, a scoreline that won’t help either team in their quest to reach the final 16, but will lead to a couple of crucial duals with Switzerland assuming Brazil defeat them in their first encounter.