Advertisement
Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
# Group by Group Guide
Group E Preview: Spain and Germany collide in heavyweight group
The latest in our series focuses on Group E, featuring Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica.

SPAIN 

How did they get here? 

Spain made a slow start to qualifying, drawing with Greece and needing a 92nd-minute goal to beat Georgia away from home, before then losing away to Sweden. The Swedes’ subsequent defeats away to Greece and Georgia eased any Spanish anxiety, who then beat Sweden 1-0 on the final day to top the group with four points to spare.  

Who is the manager?  

Luis Enrique remains in situ and is guaranteed a better World Cup than his predecessor: Julen Lopetegui was infamously sacked on the eve of the tournament in Russia for having the temerity to agree to take the Real Madrid job. (They soon sacked him too.) 

How do they play? 

Enrique has not diverged from the classic Spanish style of 4-3-3 with, yes, Alvaro Morata still leading the line. 

world-news-march-25-2021 Jose Luis Contreras Pedri. Jose Luis Contreras

Who is their key player? 

Pedri is only 19 but is a sensation, with the talent and mentality to become the best midfielder of his next generation: think of him as a kind of fusion of Xavi and Iniesta all in one. In spite of having been run into the ground by Barcelona, Spain, and the Spanish Olympic team, he has recovered from injury and, if Spain go well, will likely be one of the tournament’s dominant players. 

Who is their potential breakout star? 

Pedri blossomed at the Euros and his fellow Barcelona midfielder Gavi may do so in Qatar, but let’s pick Ansu Fati for here. He is another gem at Barcelona, inheriting Lionel Messi’s Number 10 jersey, continuing the club’s tradition of reserving that shirt for players who surname’s are mildly offensive adjectives. He became the youngest scorer in Champions League history in 2019, and has again shaken off injuries ahead of this tournament.

Persistent injury, Ousmane Dembele’s renaissance under Xavi, and Barcelona’s berserk spending has stymied some of his first-team opportunities at the Camp Nou, but if he can stay fit, he may be undroppable by the time he returns from Qatar. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

The striker position is a worry for Luis Enrique, with Real Sociedad Mikel Oyarzabal likely to miss out having sustained a serious knee injury in March. Villarreal striker Gerard Moreno is also sweating on inclusion, having only returned last week from an injury lay-off. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

A semi-final place should do for a Spanish side brimming with excitement and young potential, though perhaps too profligate up front, where too heavy a burden may fall on the sensitive shoulders of Alvaro Morata. They have also been handed a tough group with Germany and a Japan side tipped in some quarters as dark horses. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstakes? 

‘Spain’s winners 12 years ago were built around a Barcelona midfield trio of Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets. Time moves on and this year they’re again built around a Barcelona of midfield trio of Pedri, Gavi, and, oh, still Busquets.’ 

 

COSTA RICA 

How did they get here? 

Costa Rica finished level on points with the United States but an inferior goal difference sent them globetrotting to the inter-confederational play-off, where a 1-0 win against New Zealand in Qatar earned them a right of return for the main event. 

Who is their manager? 

Luis Fernando Suárez is back for his third World Cup, having coached Ecuador in 2006 and Honduras in 2014. They were contrasting experiences: he led Ecuador to the last-16, but lost all three group games with Honduras, one of which was to Ecuador. Not exactly a man of understatement, Suarez told Fifa ahead of the New Zealand game that qualification was an obsession and failure was akin to death, meaning the play-off left him “halfway between obsession and death.” Obsession won out. 

How do they play? 

Costa Rica usually play a 4–4-2, though sometimes swap to a 5-4-1 – Suarez talks of the importance of being adaptable. If they do adapt, though, they do so according to the same principles: their priority is defence. They scored just 13 goals in 14 qualifier matches, albeit the eight conceded was the second-best defensive record. An average possession share of just 40% across qualifying is further testament to their pragmatism. Expect that figure to be even lower in Qatar. 

england-v-costa-rica-international-friendly-elland-road Mike Egerton Keylor Navas. Mike Egerton

Who is their key player? 

Goalkeeper Keylor Navas is a superstar in Costa Rica, having won three Champions League titles with Real Madrid. He’s now sitting on the bench at PSG but, at 35, remains crucial for his country. Only the Jamaican goalkeeper made more saves per game than Navas in qualifying, and nobody could match the quality of his saves: factoring into the Expected Goals value of the shots he faced, Navas prevented 0.42 goals per game. Nobody else came close to that total. 

Who is their potential breakout star? 

Costa Rica are currently between generations: Navas, Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell are all veterans from the run to the quarter-finals in 2014, while the squad for 2022 includes a clutch if young talent that might peak for the next World Cup. If they do stand out in Qatar, keep an eye on 18-year-old left winger Jewison Bennette. He is hardly an unknown quantity: he joined Sunderland in the summer, and has flitted around the edges of the first team, scoring a late equaliser against Watford at the end of September. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

There is mild alarm over Keylor Navas’ back problem, which was hardly picked up due to over-strain at PSG. Perhaps all the bench-sitting hasn’t done him much good. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

The quarter-final run in 2014 was a magnificent achievement, while they got knocked out of a tough group four years later. They’ve been handed an even worse lot in Qatar: it will be a miracle if they don’t finish bottom of the group. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘I’m not expecting great things from a side built around a bench-sitting goalkeeper in his mid-30s.’ 

GERMANY

How did they get here?  

North Macedonia, Romania, Armenia, Iceland and Liechtenstein were hardly daunting qualifier opponents, but Germany nonetheless made light work of them all, winning every game bar a sensational home defeat to North Macedonia early in the group. 

press-conference-to-announce-the-squad-for-the-senior-national-team DPA / PA Images Hansi Flick. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Who is the manager?  

Hansi Flick led Bayern Munich to the European Cup but left in curiously surly circumstances, becoming the man to replace long-serving Jogi Lowe in the national team’s hotseat. He’s the first man other than Lowe to coach Germany at a tournament since 2006, where Lowe was on the bench as Jurgen Kilinsmann’s assistant. 

How do they play? 

Flick usually sets up in a 4-2-3-1 brimming with attacking talent, though there is a little bit of concern about the other end of the field. His Bayern side were brilliant at times, though they were never exactly paragons of defensive resolve. 

Who is their key player? 

Joshua Kimmich keeps Germany’s midfield ticking, and he has been put back into central-midfield by Flick after Lowe controversially played him at right wing-back to facilitate his ultimately defective 3-4-3. 

Who is their potential breakout star of this World Cup? 

Jamal Musiala has been one of Bayern Munich’s best players this season, and in a Germany squad rich with young attacking talent, he is the one who shines brightest. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Marco Reus has been ruled out through injury, missing yet another major tournament: add this to the victorious World Cup along with the Euros in 2016 and 2020. Timo Werner is out too, a cruel blow having established himself as a favourite of Flick’s. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

In Russia, Germany failed to make it out of the group for the very first time, but that doesn’t mean they will be judged against anything other than winning the tournament. They have an abundance of attacking quality and, in Kimmich and Ilkay Gundogan, a midfield pairing capable of dictating play against anybody. The defence is Germany’s biggest issue, with Antonio Rudiger the most reliable of a back four that is lacking in top-class full-backs.

Exclusive Six
Nations Analysis

Get Murray Kinsella’s exclusive analysis of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign this spring

Become a Member

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Mario Gotze’s selection shows some titans of 2014 are still around, along with Neuer, and Thomas Muller. Musiala, Youssouf Mokoko, and Karim Adeyami are exciting young talents too, so Flick has either successfully fused youth with experience or is leading a side in transition.’

JAPAN 

How did they get here?  

Japan sauntered through the first phase of Asian qualifying with eight wins from eight, and qualified by finishing second behind Saudi Arabia in the second phase. 

Who is their manager? 

Hajime Moriyasu is a former Japanese international who did not have the chance to represent his country at the World Cup, missing out on the ‘94 World Cup in the infamous ‘Agony of Doha’, where the concession of a last-second goal cost them a spot at the tournament. Now Moriyasu talks of wanting to create ‘The Joy of Doha.’ After leading Hiroshima to back-to-back J-League titles, he took charge of Japan’s U23s before stepping up to the main gig after the World Cup in Russia. His stated ambition is to make the quarter-finals: his squad may be good enough to do that…had they been drawn in an easier group. 

How do they play? 

Japan generally play a a 4-3-3 though sometimes shift it to a 4-2-3-1, and were the highest-scorers across both phases of qualifying, averaging just over three goals per game.

ecuador-japan DPA / PA Images Daichi Kamada. DPA / PA Images / PA Images

Who is their key player? 

Attacking midfielder Daichi Kamada is having an outstanding season for Eintracht Frankfurt, scoring 13 goals, three of which came in the Champions League. He hasn’t always been first-choice for his country – behind Taki Minamino, once of Liverpool – but such is his form and some of the squad selections Moriyasu has made, he may quickly emerge as Japan’s main attacking outlet, especially if they plump for a 4-2-3-1. There are opportunities to break into the forward line, following the surprise omission of Celtic duo Kyogo Furuhashi and Reo Hatate. 

Who is their potential breakout star of this World Cup? 

It feels that every country has had their own ‘Messi’ since about 2010, and Takefusa Kubo took the moniker of The Japanese Messi. (That’s largely down to the fact he joined Barcelona at the age of 10.) He had to leave Barca as the club were deemed to have broken transfer laws in signing him, so played a bit of J-League until he was picked up by Real Madrid. He never actually played a game for Madrid either, going out on loan to a succession of Spanish clubs before completing a permanent move to Real Sociedad ahead of this season, scoring a winning goal on his debut. Kubo is still only 21 and is a versatile forward, having played off both flanks and up front for Sociedad and Japan. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

They have lost Huddersfield defender Yuta Nakayama to an achilles injury, but of more pre-tournament concern was the fitness of Arsenal full-back Takehiro Tomiyasu, but Japan expect him to be fit for the opening game. 

What are their realistic ambitions?

Moriyasu wants to go to the quarter-finals but he has been dealt an extremely difficult draw. Japan progressed through the group in Russia on fair play rules – collecting two fewer yellow cards than Senegal – so perhaps this is fortune paying them back

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘To qualify, Japan must beat Costa Rica and target at least one of Spain and Germany for a draw: pre-tournament prognostics which are giving me a real, Ireland-at-Euro-2012-vibe.’

 

Group E fixtures 

Wednesday 23 November

  • Germany vs Japan; Khalifa International Stadium; kick-off 1pm
  • Spain vs Costa Rica; Al Thumama Stadium; kick-off 4pm

Sunday 27 November 

  • Japan vs Costa Rica; Ahmed bin Ali Stadium; kick-off 10am
  • Spain vs Germany; Al Bayt Stadium; kick-off 7pm

Thursday 1 December 

  • Costa Rica vs Germany; Al Bayt Stadium; kick-off 7pm
  • Japan vs Spain; Khalifa International Stadium; kick-off 7pm

Read all of our group previews here.

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel