Brazil wins Group E, keeps World Cup knockout round bracket lopsided

Henry Bushnell

Wednesday was a day of seismic shock at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But hours after one favorite fell, another restored order.

Brazil calmed down a tumultuous tournament with a 2-0 win over Serbia. It completed its recovery from a disappointing draw in its opener to top Group E. Switzerland, by way of a 2-2 draw with Costa Rica, followed as runner-up.

The Brazilians, in claiming a second consecutive multi-goal victory, also sent a message to a field of underperforming favorites: They’re ready for whoever pops up in their path.

Brazil won Group E with a 2-0 victory over Serbia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)
Brazil won Group E with a 2-0 victory over Serbia at the 2018 World Cup. (Getty)

But their Group E triumph had a broader effect on the 2018 World Cup: It kept the knockout round bracket alarmingly lopsided. Which means Brazil will have to be at or near its best to even bring a sixth title within reach.

Brazil wins Group E … but is that a good thing?

Brazil, understandably, couldn’t take any chances. It went all out for a win and got one. But with Sweden topping Group F earlier in the day, Brazil’s win has given it a brutal knockout round path.

That path will go through Mexico first, then likely England or Belgium, then whoever survives the Uruguay-Portugal-France-Argentina four-team death match.

All in all, with Brazil locked in, the left side of the bracket now features 10 World Cup titles, the best team from North and Central America, and the reigning European champs:

(Screenshot: FiveThirtyEight)
(Screenshot: FiveThirtyEight)

Brazil’s victory is bad news for Mexico. It also sets up a strange Belgium-England match on Thursday. Both teams would be better off losing it.

Either way, Brazil’s route to July 15 will be ridden with obstacles.

Then again, Brazil probably won’t care. Because it looks like the best team in Russia.

Brazil looks like a favorite

Brazil wasn’t utterly dominant Wednesday. But it was better than it was against Costa Rica, just as it was better against Costa Rica than it was against Switzerland.

It is almost impossible for opponents to escape Brazil’s quality. Philippe Coutinho, previously the scorer of one of the best individual goals of the World Cup, this time split the Serbian defense with a special pass.

And the oft-maligned Paulinho showed exactly why he’s in the Brazilian team. He can do the dirty defensive work. He can also spot opportunities to spring forward. He did just that, took Coutinho’s pass and poked it over Serbia’s keeper:

In the second half, Thiago Silva headed home Neymar’s cross for 2-0:

Brazil was imperfect in Group E. But any difficulties are behind it. It is good and improving. It’s now battle-tested. It might not be the favorite to win the World Cup, only because of the aforementioned bracket. But i’s the most complete unit.

Brazil survives Group E’s physicality

The lasting image of Group E will be Brazilian players on the ground – and not because they were flopping. Because all three Selecao opponents adopted hack-at-all-cost approaches.

Those approaches worked, but to varying degrees. Switzerland’s literally injured Neymar, and held the Brazilians to a draw. Costa Rica kept them at bay for 90 minutes. Serbia’s had Neymar rolling like a log down a hill:

And Serbia’s made Wednesday’s game a full-blooded battle. But Brazil survived. It took seven points from a group that proved to be tougher than expected. It’ll be better because of the stiff tests it received.

And from a physical standpoint, it emerged mostly unscathed. Likely unrelated to the beatings he and his teammates took, Marcelo exited Wednesday’s game in the first half with a back injury that will be a worry ahead of the knockout rounds.

But one could argue Filipe Luis would be a better option to quell Mexico’s counterattack on Monday anyway. Brazil, just like Neymar, might be rolling now. And the rest of the world might be in trouble.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at, or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell, and on Facebook.

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