Costa Rica were a godsend for anyone who had to wade through (or write) 32 team previews this summer: the team is pretty much the same as the one we saw four years ago, give or take a few minor tweaks. After the failed Paulo Wanchope experiment, Óscar Ramírez decided the most sensible course of action would be to replicate Jorge Luís Pinto's system - and use most of his starters too.
On the face of it, this isn't a bad thing; Costa Rica were excellent in Brazil, after all, not least in their opening-game demolition of Uruguay. Yet while familiarity brings benefits, there will be no surprise factor this year, and their last two friendlies (0-2 against England and 1-4 against Belgium) won't have done much for confidence. With Brazil in their second game, though, Los Ticos will know that they need to get something from this meeting in Samara.
Is talent enough for Serbia?
Their preparations for Russia have been slightly fraught, with a late managerial change and rumours of factionalism in the dressing room, but Serbia gave a decent demonstration of what they can do in their final pre-tournament friendly. A 5-1 win over Bolivia, lit up by a superb display by Aleksandar Mitrović, might just have raised expectations ahead of their Group E opener.
That Mladen Krstajić has talent at his disposal is obvious: most of the managers in the competition would kill to have players as naturally gifted as Dušan Tadić, Sergej Milinković-Savić and Adem Ljajić providing ammunition from midfield. The question is whether the rookie coach has the savvy to knit it all together - not just in one game, but over three.
The fixture list has been kind to Serbia, who have a great chance to get points on the board before what should, in theory, be the second-place play-off against Switzerland. 1.96 is the price for the Eagles to start with a win.
Yet there's something about Costa Rica that makes us reluctant to plump for Serbia in the Match Odds market. They've started three of their four World Cup appearances with a win, and while their form isn't great (Northern Ireland and Scotland are their only scalps in 10 games), they might just be able to channel some of the old grit, such that it would not a major shock were they to escape with a draw at 3.35.
Sparks could fly
Serbia were a fairly fun watch in qualifying, scoring 20 and conceding 10 in their 10 matches. Their centre-backs are at the bookends of their careers (Duško Tošić is 33 and Nikola Milenković is 20), and the team can look a little front-loaded at times, which is good news for opponents.
Costa Rica are by nature cautious, usually employing a 5-4-1 system, yet have shipped goals to Canada, Honduras, Panama, Hungary and Tunisia over the last year, indicating that they're far from impregnable. If Serbia take the lead, they could be forced to be a bit more expansive, and over 2.5 goals may well be worth taking on at 2.66.
Mitro the man
Our preferred angle for this one is in the goalscorer markets, with Mitrović likely to be available at around 2.40 to net anytime. He is coming off a superb spell with Fulham and is a real confidence player, meaning he will be shooting from everywhere after his hat-trick against Bolivia.
Serbia should dominate possession and have creativity to spare, so he looks a good pick to start the World Cup with a bang, whether or not it's enough for his team to do the same.
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Key Opta Stats for Costa Rica v Serbia
Costa Rica have qualified for their fifth World Cup – they have reached the knockout stages in two of their four previous appearances (1990 and 2014). They are6.20 to make the last-16.
Penalty shoot-outs excluded, Costa Rica were one of only three sides to remain unbeaten in the 2014 World Cup (alongside Germany and Netherlands). The draw is3.35.
Costa Rica have kept three clean sheets in their last four World Cup games, that’s more than in their previous 11 games in the competition (2). They are4.00 to not concede.
Costa Rica have also won their opening game at the World Cup in three of their previous four appearances, the only exception coming against hosts Germany in 2006 (2-4). Meanwhile, Serbia have lost their opening game by a 1-0 scoreline each time in their last two appearances. Costa Rica are4.90 to win.
Serbia have failed to reach the knockout stages in their last two World Cup appearances (2006, 2010). You can lay Serbia to qualify from Group E at2.34.
In fact, over their last two participations, Serbia have lost five of their six group games (W1), their only win coming against Germany in 2010 (1-0). Costa Rica are3.45 in the Draw No Bet market.
Their best performance in the competition dates back to 1930 and 1962 when Yugoslavia finished fourth. Since then, whether as Yugoslavia or Serbia, they have never gone further than the quarter-finals. Serbia are2.32 to reach the knockout stages.
Only Joshua Kimmich (9) provided more assists than Serbia’s Dusan Tadic (7) in the UEFA qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup. Over 2.5 goals is2.60.