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European giants Spain and Germany clash in World Cup Group E, where only two nations have won the competition.
The other two teams, Japan and Costa Rica, are expected to cause an upset, with the heavyweight teams expected to sew up the top spots and reach the latter stages.
Spain and Germany both suffered at Russia 2018, being eliminated in the last 16 and group stages respectively, but hopes have risen significantly ahead of the kick-off in Qatar, booked for November 27.
Germany, four-time World Cup winners and defending champions at the previous edition, were humiliated by finishing last in their group, failing to progress for the first time since 1938 in one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history.
Joachim Löw’s side enjoyed a famous 7-1 win over Brazil at the 2014 World Cup, beating Lionel Messi and Argentina in the final as England knocked them out in the last 16 at Euro 2020.
That spelled Löw’s end, and former Bayern Munich coach Hansi Flick took the reigns, giving the team a late rejuvenation and a more pressing, intense game plan.
Germany have an impressive crop of players, including Bayern duo Serge Knabry and Jamal Musiala, plus Chelsea’s Kai Howards and established stars such as Joshua Kimmich and Thomas Muller.
Spain are in a similar position, with youngsters like Petri, Kavi and Anzu Fati mixed with older ones like Sergio Busquets and Alvaro Morata.
La Roja won their only World Cup trophy in 2010, defeating Germany in the semi-finals along the way. They also beat Germany in the Euro 2008 final.
Lowe was in charge in November 2020 as Luis Enrique’s side cruised to a stunning 6-0 win over Germany, with Ferran Torres scoring a hat-trick in an emphatic Nations League victory.
However, Spain lost to France in the final of that tournament and were knocked out by Italy in the Euro 2020 semi-finals, leaving fans hungry for more silverware after their golden era between 2008-2012.
Spain’s last international cup was Euro 2012, followed by a group exit in 2014 when they played their own game as the defending World Cup champions.
They did not fare well in Russia, sacking coach Julen Lopetegui before the match after being announced as Real Madrid’s next manager, and were eliminated by the hosts on penalties in the last 16.
Coach Luis Enrique has divided opinion in his homeland for some of his selection decisions, but his results have been good with Spain, who maintain high pressure and plenty of possession.
– the downtrodden –
With Germany and Spain both favorites to win the tournament, Japan and Costa Rica face a tough ride.
The former, Asian Cup 2019 finalists under coach Hajime Moriasu have never progressed beyond the last 16 of a World Cup and face Germany in their opener on November 23.
Kaoru Mitoma scored 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 Takeihiro Tomiyasu are two of Japan’s most prominent players, along with Real Sociedad winger Takefusa Kubo and Celtics’ Daisen Maeda.
Like Australia, Costa Rica eventually qualified through the continental play-offs, beating New Zealand 1–0 in June to seal their place at the World Cup.
Although on paper they are the whipping boys of Group E, that must have been true in 2014 when they incredibly topped Uruguay, Italy and England.
The Netherlands eventually beat the Central American side on penalties in the quarter-finals, their best finish yet.
Coach Luis Fernando Suarez, who takes over in 2021, will rely on Paris Saint-Germain and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Keylor Navas, Lyon’s former Arsenal striker Joel Campbell and Alajuelence’s Bryan Ruiz for creativity.
They open their campaign against Spain on November 23, while a clash against Japan on November 27 will be crucial in deciding which of the two underdogs is likely to win.
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