Like its cousins over in Group F, this is another group that sets up fantastically for neutrals.
Two solid European favorites in Germany and Spain who have to have to deal with not only each other, but two teams that are not unfamiliar with the knockout stage. Los Ticos still remember their quarterfinals run from eight years ago where they won the group of death and the Blue Samarai of Japan have made the knockouts three of the last five tournaments and have gotten at least point in every tournament since 2002.
The problem is that Germany is still really good and Spain could be a few years away from another dominant generation. While qualifying was not an issue for either team, Nations League was another matter with Spain holding of Portugal by a point after beating them on the final day and Germany finishing third in their group after drawing four games.
Can the two European giants navigate safely through this tricky group or can Costa Rica and Japan return to the knockouts?
Wed, Nov. 23, Germany vs. Japan, 8 a.m. Khalifa Int’l
Wed, Nov. 23, Spain vs. Costa Rica, 11 a.m. Al Thumama
Sun, Nov. 27, Japan vs. Costa Rica, 5 a.m. Ahmad Bin Ali
Sun, Nov. 27, Spain vs. Germany, 2 p.m. Al Bayt
Thurs, Dec. 1, Japan vs. Spain, 2 p.m. Khalifa Int’l
Thurs, Dec. 1, Costa Rica vs. Germany, 2 p.m. Al Bayt
COSTA RICA [CRC / E2 – Pot 4]
Head Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez (COL)
Nickname: Los Ticos
Rankings: FIFA 31 / ELO 35
Qualification: CONCACAF Third Round 4th Place; Intercontinental Playoff Winners 1-0 vs New Zealand
Appearance: 6th / Best Finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – W 2-0 vs Nigeria; W 2-1 vs Uzbekistan; D 2-2 at South Korea
Players You Should Know: GK Keylor Navas (PSG), MID Celso Borges and Bryan Ruiz (Alajuelense/CRC), FWD Joel Campbell (Leom/MEX)
Player You Should Watch: F/M Jewison Bennette, Sunderland (ENG), 7 Int’l Caps / 2 Int’l Goals
Alright, eight years ago Costa Rica got placed into a brutal group and went out and won it and the old guard from that run is still here. This squad did not have a great 2021 calendar year with another quarterfinal exit at the Gold Cup and they lost two of their first three qualifiers – that back-to-back playing USA and Canada on the road thing really should not be allowed. But after that, Costa Rica rattled off six wins in their last seven, beating the USA and Canada at home and their only blemish a scoreless draw at Mexico.
I am not guaranteeing another epic quarterfinal run for Los Ticos, but unlike Group D I think the favorites could be far less dominant here and the upstarts are far more dangerous. Costa Rica can get out of this group because they are quality on set pieces, Keylor Navas is still a god in net, and youngster Bennette has really provided a youthful spark, assisting Joel Campbell’s goal in the 1-0 playoff win over New Zealand.
GERMANY [GER / E3 – Pot 2]
Head Coach: Hansi Flick
Nickname: Die Mannschaft
Rankings: FIFA 11 / ELO 10
Qualification: UEFA Group J Winners
Appearance: 20th (includes West Germany) / Best Finish: Champions (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendly – W 1-0 at Oman; UEFA Nations League D 3-3 at England; L 0-1 vs Hungary
Player You Should Know: FWD Kai Havertz, Chelsea (ENG), 31 Int’l Caps / 10 Goals
Player You Should Watch: FWD Youssoufa Moukoko, Borussia Dortmund (GER), 1 Int’l Cap / 0 Goals
Talent wise, Germany always has the potential to be one of the best teams in this tournament. Form wise however, is another story after their struggles in the UEFA Nations League. Despite that, there’s a real crop of good young talent on this roster to go along with the usual veteran presence. My only issue with Germany’s squad this year is the goal scoring particularly with Timo Warner out, enigmatic as he was with Chelsea the last two years, it leaves this team thin up top after 33 year old Thomas Muller. There’s plenty of options out wide for goals with Mane and Gnabry and Havertz coming up from midfield but depth wise I have some worries about just how far this team can go if the youngsters aren’t effective.
JAPAN [JPN / E4 – Pot 3]
Head Coach: Hajime Moriyasu (JPN)
Nickname: Blue Samurai
Rankings: FIFA 24 / ELO 26
Qualification: AFC Third Round Group B Runners-up
Appearance: 7th / Best Finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendlies – L 1-2 vs Canada; D 0-0 vs Ecuador; W 2-0 vs United States
Player You Should Know: DEF Maya Yoshida, Schalke 04 (GER), 122 Int’l Caps / 12 Goals
Player You Should Watch: MID Takumi Minamino, Monaco (FRA), 44 Int’l Caps / 17 goals
USA fans just saw this team absolutely frustrate and dominate their team enroute to a 2-0 win at the last friendly window prior to the World Cup. This is a squad where the team system and organization is the star and this team gives off a good New York Red Bulls or Philadelphia Union vibe.
I do have questions about where the bulk of the goals will come from, but youngsters Shuto Machino and Kaoru Mitoma have a combined 13 caps and 8 goals to pair with the scoring by committee approach the Blue Samurai have. But it is a tough assignment to get a top two spot off one of the favorites and another darkhorse side.
SPAIN [ESP / E1 - Pot 1]
Head Coach: Luis Enrique (ESP)
Nickname: La Furia Roja
Rankings: FIFA 7 / ELO 3
Qualification: UEFA Group B Winners
Appearance: 16th / Best Finish: Champions (2010)
Recent Results: Int’l Friendly – W at Jordan 3-1; UEFA Nations League – L vs Swizterland 1-2; W at Portugal 1-0
Players You Should Know/Watch: MIDs Pedri and Gavi (Barcelona – ESP), 27 combined caps
Is this the dominant generation of a decade ago? No...but it could be again very, very soon. A team that still boasts veterans like Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, and Alvaro Morata but is largely going to giving way to an ever growing list of Barcelona wonder kids perhaps as soon as the next cycle.
But the hope is that we might witness the breakout party of the Pedri and Gavi midfield and the wonders that might entail for the game as a whole. This is far from that dominant side that won the World Cup a decade ago, but their upcoming generation could get to that level in the next cycle or two. Getting Costa Rica first could be very advantageous if they can get a win on the board right off the bat.
I’m in two minds here...naturally both Germany and Spain should advance but I don’t think either will do so easily and their Sunday matchup will prove pivotal as far as who wins the group and who might need a win on the final day to even advance to the knockouts.I feel like Germany is better setup for the group stage but it’s Spain that might have the edge to go further.
Japan I think nabs a win at some point and likewise the Ticos I think can get a draw or two as they love stoppage time drama nearly holding Brazil scoreless before giving up two late goals and getting a late own goal equalizer against Switzerland in stoppage time in the 2018 group stage. Entirely possible that Japan or Costa Rica gets multiple draws/results but can’t advance as this group is set to go down to the wire.
Germany - Spain - Japan - Costa Rica