On paper, Germany and Spain are the two favourite teams to qualify from Group E, for the Round of 16.
The last time Spain and Germany faced off in a World Cup was the semifinal of the 2010 edition where Carles Puyol’s header propelled Spain into the final and the Las Rojas eventually won the World Cup for the first time in their history. In 2014, Germany beat Argentina 1-0 in the final to lift its fourth World Cup.
However, the recent World Cups have not been fruitful for Spain and Germany. In 2018, host country Russia pulled off an upset after beating Spain 4-3 on penalties to qualify for the quarterfinals.
For Germany, the 2018 World Cup was one to forget after it failed to make it past the group stage. It was the first time that the Germans failed to make it past the first round in 80 years.
Japan showed its ability to fight in 2018 when it not only qualified from the group stages, winning two matches out of three but almost knocking out Belgium in the Round of 16.
Japan took an unexpected 2-0 lead but could not hold on to it as the Belgians mounted a 3-2 comeback (including a late goal by Nacer Chadli) to break Japanese hearts.
Costa Rica, which will be playing its sixth World Cup, is the weakest team on paper in Group E. However, the country has a history of being giant-killers at the World Cup.
In the 2014 edition, it beat Uruguay and Italy in the group stages and drew with England. It went on to reach the quarterfinals where it was eventually knocked out by the Netherlands on penalties.
Spain is one of the favourites to qualify from Group E.
Despite having a poor run at the 2018 World Cup, the Las Rojas, under Luis Enrique, have shown glimpses of the flair-induced football that made them the greatest footballing force from 2008 to 2012 when the country won two Euros and a World Cup.
Spain at the FIFA World Cup
While it will be missing important players like Mikel Oyarzabal and Marcos Llorente, Luis Enrique has the depth in his team to go deep into the World Cup.
Spain is still a work in progress under Enrique, who took over the national side in 2018. It has a good balance of experience and youth.
Spain has always depended heavily on its midfielders and this World Cup, it will have exciting players in Pedri and Gavi in charge of creating chances for the forwards.
In defence, Aymeric Laporte Pau Torres will look to provide solidity while Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati and Alvaro Morata will be in charge of the attack.
Full Spain Squad
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Despite having a shaky start to its World Cup qualification campaign, Costa Rica recovered well collecting 19 out of a possible 21 points and finishing fourth in the table. It then defeated New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff in June to book its ticket to Qatar.
Costa Rica at the FIFA World Cup
Costa Rica is the weakest team on paper but by no means a pushover. Manager Luis Fernando Suarez has done good work with the team after he was brought on for the 2021 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Costa Rica will have experience on its side in the upcoming World Cup.
With a solid keeper like Keylor Navas between the sticks and players like Celso Borges, Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz, who were all part of the 2014 team that reached the quarterfinals, Suarez will know that his team has the capability to cause an upset on any given day.
However, with teams like Spain and Germany looking in good touch, another dream run like the 2014 World Cup looks unlikely.
Full Costa Rica Squad
Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu raised questions when he left out Celtic striker Kyogo Furuhashi despite his excellent form and Vissel Kobe forward Yuya Osako, saying he would prefer players with “burning ambition” rather than experience in the upcoming World Cup.
Japan at the FIFA World Cup
Japan has plenty of footballers who play at the highest level of European football like captain Maya Yoshida who plays for Schalke, Takehiro Tomiyasu for Arsenal, Daichi Kamada for Eintracht Frankfurt and young talent Takefusa Kubo for Real Sociedad.
The Japanese were undefeated in the group stages of the 2018 World Cup, winning two matches and drawing one.
In the Round of 16, it had taken a 2-0 lead against Belgium and was on the verge of a major upset before the Belgians’ mounted an inspiring comeback.
Japan has never progressed beyond the Round of 16 in a World Cup and will aim for a higher finish but Moriyasu knows that it won’t be an easy task given the heavyweight opponents in the group.
Full Japan Squad
Germany will like to wipe out every memory from the 2018 edition in Russia before it starts its campaign in Qatar.
For the first time in 80 years, the Germans could not qualify from the first round after losing to South Korea in its final group match of the 2018 World Cup.
Germany at the FIFA World Cup
But it is a new era under Hansi Flick who has shown that he has a winning mentality after his trophy-laden stint as manager of Bayern Munich.
Germany has already suffered a setback with the World Cup fast approaching as RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner was ruled out of the tournament with an ankle injury he suffered while playing in a Champions League match against Shakhtar Donetsk.
With Werner out, Kai Havertz will most probably assume the No. 9 role.
In centre-back, Antonio Rudiger will definitely be a starter.
For his centre-back partner Flick has to choose between Niklas Sule or Dayot Upamecano. Thomas Muller, Ilkay Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich will give midfield solidity while Leroy Sane and Serge Gnabry are most likely to operate from the flanks.
Bayern Munich’s Jamal Musiala will be Bayern’s surprise package this World Cup. The youngster, who was nominated for the 2022 Kopa Trophy, has 10 goals and eight assists for Bayern this season.
Full Germany Squad
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