Fallen giants ‘feeling pressure’ ahead of Qatar

There’s no nation more united with the World Cup than Brazil.

Most millennial or Gen X football fans have grown up with a successful Brazil team – they won the tournament in 1994 and 2002, made the final in 1998, and were routinely at the top of the FIFA World Rankings.

But when stars of the magnitude of Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, among others, began to fade, they experienced (by their standards) a relatively lean period, being knocked out in the quarter-finals in both 2006 and 2010.

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Hosting the tournament in 2014, that was supposed to be their triumphant return to the pinnacle of the sport, and instead? The most embarrassing moment in the team’s history.

After a ruthless qualifying campaign where they won 14 and drew three of their 17 matches, they made it back to the top of the rankings in March of this year, where they remain – and are firm favorites to win the tournament for the sixth time.

This is a team with elite players at every position, many of whom were there in 2014 and know what it feels like to have the weight of expectation on their shoulders.

World Cup previews: All 32 squads | Group A | Group B| Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F

They couldn’t handle the pressure eight years ago, and meekly went out in the quarters again in 2018. Will this be different? For many, like 38-year-old skipper Thiago Silva, and star player Neymar, who missed the 2014 semi through injury, it simply has to be.

Teams (FIFA World Ranking):

Brazil (1)

The five-time champions secured qualification with plenty of games to spare, winning 14 and drawing three of their 17 matches. It was one of the most impressive qualifying campaigns ever, as they easily finished on top ahead of arch-rivals Argentina.

Serbia (21)

Serbia pulled off arguably the most-dramatic qualification moment outside of sudden death play-offs, as they came into their final game against Portugal needing to beat Cristiano Ronaldo and company to advance. A 90th minute goal to Aleksandar Mitrovic did the trick, sparking wild celebrations.

Switzerland (15)

The Swiss came into the final day of qualification level on points with Italy, but with an inferior goal difference – but while Switzerland smashed Bulgaria 4-0, the Azzurri stumbled to a 0-0 draw with Northern Ireland, allowing their neighbors to swipe their spot in Qatar. Italy would then go on to suffer further humiliation in the play-offs.

Cameroon (43)

Another who qualified in extremely dramatic circumstances, Cameroon had led 1-0 after 90 minutes in Algeria following the reverse of that scoreline at home. In extra time, the hosts thought they’d done enough after a 118th minute goal, only for Karl Toko Ekambi to slot home in the fourth minute of added time to steal it on the away goals rule.

Fixtures:

Switzerland vs Cameroon – Thursday November 24, 9pm

Brazil vs Serbia – Friday November 25, 6am

Cameroon vs Serbia – Monday November 28, 9pm

Brazil vs Switzerland – Tuesday November 29, 3am

Serbia vs Switzerland – Saturday December 3, 6am

Cameroon vs Brazil – Saturday December 3, 6am

Prediction:

Brazil are red-hot favorites to advance, but it’s up in the air for that other spot. Switzerland are masters of the group stage, having navigated their way to the round of 16 in three of the last four World Cups.

1st: Brazil

2nd: Switzerland

3rd: Cameroon

4th: Serbia

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