Heart of Football

32 Sides to Every Story: Group E – Brazil, Switzerland, Serbia & Costa Rica

Group E was billed as a battle for second spot – Brazil was the consensus pick to walk the group, with the remaining teams all vying for the second spot to qualify. Brazil topped qualification with ease, only losing one game, an away match to Chile on matchday one. Switzerland finished second in UEFA group B, level on points with Portugal but with a lower goal difference.

Serbia topped a tricky group ahead of the Republic of Ireland and Wales. Costa Rica finished second in CONCACAF behind Mexico, their highlight being a double-header victory over the USA. Both European sides and Costa Rica all had World Cup experience and had genuine hopes of qualifying for the round of 16.

Dramatic scenes for a dramatic group

As expected, Brazil won the group, though this wasn’t as cut and dry as many expected. They dropped points in their opener against the Swiss. They then won 2-0 against Costa Rica, though this was a frustrating game in which they didn’t score until the 91st minute. This 1-1 against Brazil was crucial for Switzerland, who used this as a springboard to their next game, a 2-1 victory over Serbia featuring a dramatic 90th minute Xherdan Shaqiri goal that clinched the victory. Matchday 3 in Group E saw Costa Rica grab a late equaliser against Switzerland. This, coupled with a Brazil win against the Serbs, saw Switzerland progress into the next round of the World Cup.

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Just the standard fine margins decided Group E – a 90th minute winner deciding second place, for example

Despite both Serbia and Costa Rica departing the tournament, the latter with only one point, both sides will feel aggrieved to have missed out on the round of 16 tie against Sweden. Switzerland fell to a limp 1-0 defeat to the Swedes with both departed teams feeling they may have had what it took to overcome the Scandinavians. Brazil quite comfortably saw off Mexico 2-0 in Samara, but were unstuck in the quarter-finals. In Kazan, a first half double by Belgium left Brazil with too high a mountain to climb. They pulled a goal back through Renato Augusto, but it was too little too late. Their defeat may not have been as shameful as their 2014 exit, but it was yet another World Cup of disappointment for Brazil.

I spoke to Lucas Trevisan Suzzin, Nischal Schwager-Patel, Milan Stoilković and Rigo Morris about their experience in Russia that summer.


Lucas (28)

Games attended:

Brazil 1-1 Switzerland

Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica

Serbia 0-2 Brazil 

Travelling to Russia:

I went with a friend, he’s a physician and I’m a dentist. Our first flight went from Brazil to Switzerland, I think it was Bern? I don’t remember exactly… That was just a stopover, and then it was on to Moscow. We waited in Moscow for our next flight, this was to Rostov-on-Don. This whole journey was about 24 hours.

Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin brandishing his country’s flag. [image: Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin]

We stayed in Russia for 21 days, so we very much lasted for the first stage of the World Cup and then some. On the way back we stopped off in Frankfurt and we took a train to Amsterdam. It was my first time there, I liked that city so much. So it was 21 days in Russia and then three days in Amsterdam before flying home.

Brazil were placed in a relatively easy group with Serbia, Switzerland and Costa Rica. Was this good for Brazil to build up performances after their exit from the 2014 World Cup, or did it mean they were vulnerable when they were matched up against a quality side in Belgium?

I think the group was very easy for Brazil, but maybe this was not too good for us. I think that the players thought it will be too easy, and again we fell early in the tournament. I still think that we had the team to win that game against Belgium and then push further through the tournament.

Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin in the stands. [image: Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin]

Tournament highlight: 

For me, Brazil versus Switzerland was the best game. It was my first match of the World Cup so that is why it was the best for me. I still have the Switzerland t-shirt from a friend that I made at the game!

The FIFA fan fest was the real highlight for me. An amazing interaction between people from all over the world. The Russian people were welcoming, attentive and polite. The stadiums are awesome. I got the FIFA pass, so I had unlimited beer and food, so you can imagine. The only bad thing was our defeat to Belgium.

Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin at the Moscow fanzone, an experience he describes as a personal highlight of the tournament. [image: Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin]

Tell your story from Russia:

On the first night, in Krasnodar, we were going out. The first impression that we had of the Russian people is that they are a closed people; they all had a bad look on their face when we arrived, but when we start talking with them, we realised that they are not so bad. One thing that caught our attention this night was one of our group, he is a very old man and he is very closed, very similar to Pope Francisco, the Pope of the Catholic church. When he arrived we said “this is the Pope”, and a Russian guy asked us why. I told him “he is dressed like Pope Francisco”, and he had no clue, he had never heard of the Pope! That was certainly one of the biggest cultural shocks that I had during my travels in Russia.

It’s safe to say Russia left quite an impression on our Brazilian fan. [image: Dr Lucas Trevisan Suzzin]

I have to say that when I arrived, all Russians seemed a little scary, but once you get talking they are an extremely friendly people, so I ended up with a really good impression of the Russian people. I had three great friends that I made in Russia, that I still talk to through Messenger now.

I have another story actually, in a pub too! This was in St Petersburg, I think… we went to many pubs on these travels! All the Brazilians start singing a song, a famous Brazilian song, and then the Russians sing a Russian famous song, so this was a very precious moment.



Games attended:

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland

Spain 2-0 Morocco

Travelling to Russia:

I went with my dad, and it was a dream come true for me to go to my first ever World Cup with him. We couldn’t get direct flights to Kaliningrad – something you’re not faced with often in London – so we had to fly to Warsaw first and then connect to Kaliningrad. The total journey was about three hours, which isn’t too bad to get to Russia. Going there was fine, but the flights back weren’t great – we almost missed our first one, and then the airline forgot our luggage in Russia!

Nischal Schwager-Patel inside the stadium in Kaliningrad for Switzerland vs Serbia. [image: Nischal Schwager-Patel]

Switzerland appear to have a trend of performing exceptionally well during qualification, to then perform underwhelmingly during the World Cup. Why do you think this is? What do the Swiss need to do to push beyond the round of 16 at a World Cup?

I think saying we perform underwhelmingly is harsh, because the fact we are qualifying so well is an achievement. For a period of 40 years, we only reached one World Cup, in 1994, and since 2006 have qualified for four straight tournaments. We have been solid in qualifying, but often we lack that final bit of quality to beat the big teams, such as Argentina in 2014.

It’s like a mental block, because we know we can beat them on our day, but we fall just short and succumb to the pressure in the knockout stages. We really should’ve beaten Sweden, that was a painful way to go out. We need to improve how we play under pressure and learn how to take our chances against the big teams, and really come together to get past the round of 16.

Nischal Schwager-Patel’s view before witnessing a dramatic late winner in Switzerland vs Serbia. [image: Nischal Schwager-Patel]

Tournament highlight: 

The 2-1 win over Serbia, no doubt. I was lucky to be there: my first ever World Cup game and my sole Switzerland game of the tournament. We were outstanding and the day was just unbelievable. We showed superb fight to come back from 1-0 down, and the goals from Granit Xhaka and Xherdan Shaqiri were incredible. Shaqiri’s last-minute winner is my favourite ever moment in football.

Nischal Schwager-Patel with Switzerland star Granit Xhaka.

The political context around that game made it even more significant, something I didn’t realise at first. Everyone was against Switzerland, and I felt so hostile as all the Russian fans were siding with Serbia – it was little Switzerland against the rest, but that made the win even sweeter, and the celebrations were just priceless. It’s my favourite football game I’ve ever been to, and it remains one of the best days of my life.

Tell your story from Russia:

The first full day we were in Russia, we went to a café for lunch. I thought it was just a regular Russian café, until I saw Swiss midfielder Valon Behrami at a table just relaxing with his partner. I was starstruck, and I found myself just staring at him. I was drinking a Coke right next to Valon Behrami!

I awkwardly went up and, in German, asked for a photo. He obliged, and you can see how excited yet overwhelmed I was in the picture. Minutes later, I met fellow midfielder Granit Xhaka, and again went up to chat to him and get a photo. That was followed by defender Ricardo Rodríguez and forward Breel Embolo, before I met goalkeeper Yann Sommer.

I had met FIVE Swiss players in the space of about an hour, chatting with them all and wishing them good luck for the game the following day. It turned out to be the outdoor café for the Swiss national team’s hotel, while they were staying in Kaliningrad. It was the most surreal moment of my trip, a real dream come true. Best of all, I saw Ricardo Rodríguez the following day before the match, and he saw me, recognised me and winked at me.

My trip to Russia was fascinating. Seeing a country so feared and secluded from the outside up close was eye-opening, and it really changed my perceptions on the country. I really got to explore and understand the country, in what was one of my most memorable trips ever.


Milan (30)

Games attended:

Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia

Serbia 1-2 Switzerland

Serbia 0-2 Brazil 

Travelling to Russia:

I went with friends, lots of friends, but there was only one friend in particular who I did everything with – I’ve known him since elementary school. We flew from Belgrade to Moscow.

Milan Stoilkovic inside the stadium for Serbia vs Switzerland. [image: Milan Stoilkovic]

Serbia’s second game of the tournament saw them lose in the 90th minute to Switzerland. How detrimental was this? Had you drawn this game do you think Serbia could have progressed further in the tournament?

It was really disappointing losing in the last minute, especially when the referee Felix Brich stole the game from us. If the match ended with a draw then I am sure Serbia would have qualified from the group.

Milan Stoilkovic inside Samara Arena for Serbia vs Costa Rica. [image: Milan Stoilkovic]

Tournament highlight: 

In terms of the overall organization, highlights were the free trains for supporters and the fan zone in the cities. Russia didn’t feel like going to a foreign land, but it was great to see the whole place being geared towards the World Cup.

Milan Stoilkovic outside Samara’s spectacular stadium for Serbia vs Costa Rica. [image: Milan Stoilkovic]

With regards to a specific game… Argentina v France.The excitement. The goal from Pavard. Mbappé’s explosion. Incredible!

Tell your story from Russia:

Milan elected not to ‘tell his story of Russia’. Apparently, nothing noteworthy happened to him there. Not one thing. Or at least, nothing he would like to share with the world. Let your imagination run wild…


Rigo Morris inside St. Petersburg Stadium (now Gazprom Arena) for Costa Rica vs Brazil. [image: Rigo Morris]

Rigo (30)

Games attended:

Costa Rica 0-1 Serbia

Brazil 2-0 Costa Rica

Switzerland 2-2 Costa Rica

Travelling to Russia:

I went to a travel agency and they got me everything I needed to go to Russia. I went by myself but with that agency there was also a big group of 30 or so Costa Ricans.

After making it to penalties in the quarter finals of 2014, how disappointing a performance was this from Costa Rica?

It was terrible. So humiliating. I live this sport so much and it was tough to see our team eliminated. I had high hopes to at least make it out of group stages, but it was the worst performance I’ve seen for the national team in years. Costa Ricans were so upset with the coach that was managing the team during Russia, he has not been seen since then. He retired and moved to a farm far away and nobody knows anything from him.

Rigo Morris having fun with a mime on gameday. [image: Rigo Morris]

I went to the Brazil World Cup too and the experience was quite different. Since Costa Rica were doing great, Costa Rica fans were seen as “idols” and everybody wanted to get pictures with you, or your flag or the shirt, whatever. We were like celebrities and everybody would invite you drinks and stuff. It was great.

Tournament highlight: 

Sports-wise, the third game against Switzerland. We were already eliminated so the coach/manager opted to line some substitute players (the ones everybody wanted to be on the starting XI all the time). They played way better and we saw we had the tools to have performed better than we did. The day I had my best time was when Russia qualified to the next round and won their group. Russians were celebrating everywhere and it was a lot of fun and partying.

Tell your story from Russia:

I have lots of memories or stories to share. I was there for almost a month and got to see lots of places and meet a lot of people. There, almost nobody speaks English or Spanish, so sometimes it was hard to communicate with Russians, but that didn’t stop people from trying to know each other and having a great time. I took a three month long Russian course to be able to learn at least the basics, as I was going to travel alone. That really saved me because I managed to talk to people and have basic conversations.

Rigo Morris enjoying the architecture. [image: Rigo Morris]

Before going to Russia people told me it wasn’t a good idea to go there as Russians were very racist, and being a mix of black and Latino made me the perfect target. I was a little bit afraid but that didn’t stop me from going, and I’m glad I did. I had my best time there. I loved Russia, it’s people, it’s food, it’s architecture, the language, everything!!!

Even though my team sucked and I was humiliated (especially by Brazilians that were constantly making fun of us for getting us eliminated), I had a better time in Russia than in Brazil. I’m definitely going back to Russia as soon as this whole COVID thing is over. Russians were extremely nice to me. I made a lot of friends and I still talk to them on a regular basis. 

Rigo Morris inside the stadium in Nizhny Novgorod for Switzerland vs Costa Rica. [image: Rigo Morris]

I was told Russians were cold and careless, but I found the opposite. They were warm, friendly and nice. Fan zones were WAY BETTER than in Brazil. Better organized, bigger, nicer. The organization as a whole was impeccable. I have not a single bad thing to say about the stadiums, the lines, the security, the public transportation. Everything was great. The only thing was the fact that you couldn’t show your flag in public. 

The Fifa Fan Fest that I had most fun at was the one from Moscow. I was there for the opening match between Russia and Saudi Arabia. It was complete madness. I just couldn’t believe the amount of people that were there. The Russians were crazy, everybody was having a great time and even more so when the hosts destroyed Saudi Arabia 5-0.

Rigo Morris inside the stadium on a matchday. [image: Rigo Morris]

Since I’m crazy about football, I decided to bring a ball with me. I started doing keepie-uppies by myself, then a couple of Costa Rican friends joined, and soon I realised that I was playing with around 20 people from different countries. We were all passing the ball, playing “rondos” and having a lot of fun. I made a lot of friends and took a lot of pictures and videos. It was just great.

Thank you to Lucas, Nischal, Milan and Rigo for their contributions to this article. If you enjoyed this then please come back next week to read about the stories from Group F, including an Iranian rapper, a chance encounter with a 2002 World Cup captain and a beer-induced tattoo…

Catch the previous installments in the series here:


Group A

Group B

Group C

Group D

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