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World Cup 2018: Five tastiest midfield head-to-heads to look forward to

Robin Bairner
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
1.10K   //    17 Jun 2018, 14:43 IST

The World Cup is well and truly underway. Four days of action have already passed, but there is still almost a month remaining of this festival of football, which has started positively in Russia.

While the tournament itself has yet to really ignite – save for a spectacular 3-3 draw between Spain and Portugal – much of that has been due to teams nervous to lose their opening matches. As such, games have been tight, with little to pick between the teams. As the tournament wears on, that is sure to change.

Aside from that aforementioned Spain clash, we have yet to see any of the big guns really go at it, and as that happens with increasing regularity, the standard of matches are sure to improve.

Many of these games will be decided in the heart of the field, which is inevitably such an important battleground. It is this area that the war for supremacy is won and lost, and though we have already seen that this is not necessarily decisive, it can certainly have a major bearing on which direction the game will go.

With this in mind, here are five mouth-watering midfield head-to-head matches that we can look forward to before the group stages are over:

Brazil v Argentina - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers
Brazil v Argentina - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifiers

Granit Xhaka v Philippe Coutinho (Switzerland v Brazil, 17/6/2018)

Brazil are one of the favourites to go on and win World Cup 2018 but the opening test is expected to come when they tackle Switzerland in Rostov-on-Don. Against opponents ranked No.6 in the FIFA Ranking, it is a clash that is no mere formality and will offer a yardstick for the Selecao to be judged against for the remainder of the tournament.

While Brazil have class all over the field, it will be in the final third that they must make their abilities count. Dictating the play in the heart of the park for Tite’s men will likely be Barcelona star Philippe Coutinho, who will come up against an old foe in the form of Granit Xhaka, a player he knows well from his time in the Premier League.

The Arsenal’s man unenviable task will be to prevent the Brazil star from expressing his range of creativity, which will in turn hamper the offensive efforts of Neymar and Gabriel Jesus, who are liable to lead the attack.

Of course, by stifling Coutinho alone it will not stop such a world-class squad entirely, but it will be a positive starting position for Switzerland.

Pairing up with Xhaka will likely be Remo Freuler, who plies his trade with Atalanta in Serie A, but it is the Arsenal player who will be handed the brunt of the responsibility when it comes to stopping Brazil. Not only do they need him at his technical best, he must be at his mental best; too often in the past, he has let the big occasion get to him.

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Robin Bairner
SENIOR ANALYST
UK-based freelance football journalist for the last decade, I've appeared in publications such as the Guardian, the Blizzard, When Saturday Comes, but can most frequently be found on Goal.com. I write about European football, and have worked at both World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016.
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