There is a genuine fear in Russia that, whether or not the World Cup as a whole is a success, on the field it might become only the second host nation — joining South Africa in 2010 — to be eliminated in the group stage. Who's the star? Only Alan ...
Best World Cup Quarterfinals (2014)
How did they qualify? The Ticos secured a place in Russia with a game to spare, having beaten the United States home and away.
What can we expect? An increasingly professionalized and confident team, with more than a dozen players now employed by clubs abroad.
Who’s the star? Keylor Navas, the Real Madrid goalkeeper, is the most high-profile member of the squad and arguably its only truly world-class performer.
What would success look like? Reaching the quarterfinals seems impossible, but then that was the case in 2014, too.
Best World Cup Semifinals, as Yugoslavia (1930, 1962); as Serbia, it reached the group stage in 2010
How did they qualify? By escaping a delicately poised qualification group that included Wales, Austria and Ireland. Despite that success, Serbia fired its manager, Slavoljub Muslin, soon afterward anyway.
What can we expect? Serbia has an abundance of gritty defenders, experienced midfielders and a bright young generation coming through, but a shortage of high-caliber attacking players may blunt its edge. Much will depend on the fiery Aleksandar Mitrovic and the journeyman Aleksandar Prijovic.
Who’s the star? The Premier League veterans Nemanja Matic, Aleksandar Kolarov and Branislav Ivanovic provide the backbone of the team, but Lazio’s Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, 22, adds an otherwise absent dash of style.
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