BSS : 6 NOVEMBER, 2022, 5:27 PM
European giants Spain and Germany face off in World Cup Group E, the only one featuring two nations who have previously won the tournament.
The other two teams, Japan and Costa Rica, will be looking to cause an upset, with most expecting the heavyweight sides to sew up the top spots and reach the latter stages.
Both Spain and Germany suffered at Russia 2018, eliminated in the last 16 and group stage respectively, but hopes are significantly higher ahead of kick-off in Qatar, with their clash booked for November 27.
Germany, four-time World Cup winners and the defending champions in the previous edition, were humiliated by finishing bottom of their group, failing to progress for the first time since 1938 in one of the biggest shocks in the competition’s history.
Joachim Loew’s side, who romped to a famous 7-1 win over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup and then beat Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final, also suffered at Euro 2020, where England knocked them out in the last 16.
It spelt the end for Loew, and former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick took the reins, giving the team an overdue refresh and operating with a high-pressing, intense gameplan.
Germany have a crop of exciting players, including Bayern duo Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala, plus Chelsea’s Kai Havertz, as well as established stars like Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Mueller.
Spain are in a similar position, with youngsters like Pedri, Gavi and Ansu Fati, mixed in with older heads like Sergio Busquets and Alvaro Morata.
La Roja won their only World Cup trophy in 2010, beating Germany in the semi-finals on the way. They also beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final.
Luis Enrique’s side produced a stunning 6-0 win over Germany in November 2020 when Loew was still at the helm, with Ferran Torres scoring a hat-trick in the emphatic Nations League triumph.
However Spain went on to lose to France in the final of that tournament and were knocked out in the Euro 2020 semi-finals by Italy, leaving fans hungry for more silverware after their golden era between 2008-2012.
Spain’s last international trophy was the 2012 Euro, followed by an appalling showing of their own as defending World Cup champions in 2014, knocked out in the group.
In Russia they did not fare much better, sacking coach Julen Lopetegui on the eve of the tournament after he was announced as Real Madrid’s next manager, before being eliminated by the hosts on penalties in the last 16.
Coach Luis Enrique splits opinions in his homeland for some of his selection decisions but his results have been good with Spain, who also press high and maintain plenty of possession.
– Underdogs –
With both Germany and Spain among the favourites to win the tournament, Japan and Costa Rica are facing a rough ride.
The former, Asian Cup 2019 finalists under coach Hajime Moriyasu, have never made it beyond the last 16 of a World Cup, and face Germany in their opening game on November 23.
Kaoru Mitoma hit a brace for Japan as they beat Australia to qualify with a game to spare and send their opponents into the play-offs.
Monaco attacker Takumi Minamino and Arsenal defender Takehiro Tomiyasu are two of Japan’s most important players, along with Real Sociedad winger Takefusa Kubo and Celtic’s Daizen Maeda.
Like Australia, Costa Rica eventually qualified through the intercontinental play-offs, beating New Zealand 1-0 in June to seal their place at the World Cup.
Although on paper they are Group E’s whipping boys, the same was supposed to be true in 2014 when incredibly they ended up finishing first, above Uruguay, Italy and England.
The Netherlands eventually knocked out the Central American side on penalties in the quarter-finals, their best ever finish.
Coach Luis Fernando Suarez, who took over in 2021, will depend on Paris Saint-Germain and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, along with Leon’s former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell and Alajuelense’s Bryan Ruiz, previously at Fulham, for creativity.
They will open their tournament against Spain on November 23, while the clash against Japan on November 27 could be crucial in determining which, if either, of the two underdog nations have a chance at making it through.
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