Spain and Germany are not playing their usual tunes in this World Cup.
Recent form, a changing of the guard in terms of roster structure and the rest of the soccer world’s rise to prominence in the 2010s by Die Mannschaft and La Roja could be the reasons.
France, Belgium and Croatia may have taken their place temporarily, but with the likes of Padre and Jamal Mosella, a new era is beginning.
However, these young stars are not guaranteed a trip to the knockout stages and a return to the top tier of the game. Japan have an unrelenting gift both physically and technically, and Costa Rica were favorites before emerging from a group of 16 in late 2014 that included England, Italy and Uruguay. Qualifying should be finished, but it won’t be a cakewalk.
Group and schedule
November 23: Germany vs Japan (8am)
Nov. 23: Spain vs. Costa Rica (11 a.m. ET)
November 27: Japan vs Costa Rica (5pm)
November 27: Spain vs Germany (2pm)
December 1: Japan vs Spain (2pm)
December 1: Costa Rica vs. Germany (2 p.m. ET)
FIFA World Ranking: 7
Top scorer in qualifying: Ferran Torres (four goals)
World Cup Winning Odds: +486 (via Sports Interact)
Previous World Cup appearances: 15
Best Show: Championship in 2010
2018 World Cup: 10of the Place (Round of 16)
Editor: Luis Enrique
Possible formation: 4-3-3
Probable starting XI: Unai Simeone (Athletic Bilbao) – Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Emerick Laporte (Manchester City), Pau Torres (Villarreal), Jordi Alba (Barcelona) – Gueye (Barcelona), Rodri (Manchester City), Padre (Barcelona) – Ferran Torres (Barcelona), Alvaro Morata (Atletico Madrid), Pablo Sarabia (PSG).
Big question: Spain are brimming with talent, boasting players of generational ability in their midfield, but will they have enough strength in the final third?
Pulse: Gone are the days of Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique and Iker Casillas and the only member of the 2010 World Cup winning team that retained Sergio Busquets is no longer the world’s best in his position. Yes, times have certainly changed, but the next wave of Spanish stars led by one of the best managers in sports signals they may be ready to put down another marker.
Luis Enrique is being pursued by the best clubs in the world, and if he wants a job at PSG or Atlético Madrid, this is probably his. Players want to walk through a wall for him and his lack of concern about what the ruthless Spanish press thinks about his team selection has proved remarkable. Barcelona’s Gueye and Padre, two stars who have been thrown into the Camp Nou deep end only to swim successfully, will be the engine that comes in midfield for years. Nico Williams, Ansu Fati and Yermi Pino are talented strikers to watch in La Liga.
The youth in this squad set Spain up very well for the future, but a handful of veterans arriving could be the key to unlocking their potential in Qatar.
The X Factor: Alvaro Morata may be the most controversial football player of the last 20 years. Despite not scoring at a reasonable rate with a top-class striker, the 30-year-old is being paid handsomely by some of the world’s biggest clubs. He needs to score for this Spain team to make waves.
Breakout Candidate: The Copa Trophy is relatively new, but the list of past winners is impressive. Mbappe, De Ligt and Padre were the first three to receive the honour. The latest? Padre’s teammate says. Both midfielders are already broke, but they will rise to the consciousness of the sports world this winter.
FIFA World Ranking: 31st
Top scorers in qualifying: Celso Borges, Joel Campbell, Anthony Contreras, Bryan Ruiz (two goals each)
World Cup Winning Odds: +45,300 (via Sports Interact)
Previous World Cup appearances: 5
Best performances: Quarter-finals in 2014
2018 World Cup: 29of the Venue (Group Stage)
Editor: Luis Fernando Suarez
Possible formation: 4-4-2
Probable starting XI: Keylor Navas (PSG) – Cashier Fuller (Herdiano), Oscar Duarte (Alohida), Francisco Calo (Koniaspor), Brian Oviedo (Real Salt Lake) – Jason Bennett (Sunderland), Celso Borges (Alajuelas), Brian Ruiz (Alajuelas), Gerson Torres (Herediano) – Anthony Contreras (Herediano), Joel Campbell (Leon).
Big question: Los Tecos didn’t set the world on fire during their CONCACAF World Cup qualifying campaign, but they defended well. Will it last against the heavyweights in their group?
Pulse: It’s not always pretty in Concacaf. Costa Rica’s path to the 2022 World Cup serves as damning evidence.
Luis Fernando Suarez’s side made it to the final qualifying round, conceding just 13 goals. Due to their strong defensive record – they allowed just eight goals in 14 games – that inefficiency on offense did not detract from their campaign. After securing fourth in CONCACAF qualifying with a win over the United States, Costa Rica then beat New Zealand in their intercontinental match thanks to Joel Campbell’s goal in the third minute.
Again, the game wasn’t pretty, but it worked. This could be the calling card for a group of veterans in Costa Rica who are almost certainly competing in their last major international tournament. Keylor Navas, Celso Borges, Brian Ruiz and Kendall Weston deserve their flowers for the changes they have put in place for Los Tacos.
The X Factor: Navas was sensational in qualifying, and arguably the biggest reason Costa Rica find themselves in the World Cup for the sixth time. The 35-year-old hero helped his country beat England, Italy and Uruguay in 2014. They will need a repeat of Navas’ performance to repeat this amazing run.
Breakout Candidate: Unlike many of his colleagues in the national team, Jason Bennett plies his trade outside of the Costa Rican domestic league. The Sunderland winger is also only 18, and is an important member of the future team that will need to refresh the squad after this tournament.
FIFA World Ranking: 11
Top scorers in qualifying: Serge Gnabry, Alkaid Gondwan, Timo Werner (five goals each)
Odds of winning the World Cup: +608 (via Sports Interact)
Previous World Cup Matches: 19
Best performances: Champions in 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014
2018 World Cup: 22nd place (group stage)
Editor: Hansie Fleck
Possible formation: 4-2-3-1
Probable starting XI: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich) – Benjamin Heinrichs (RB Leipzig), Nicolas Sowell (Borussia Dortmund), Antonio Rudiger (Real Madrid), Thelo Kehr (West Ham United) – Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Elke Gone Manchester City) — Serge Gnabry (Bayern Munich), Jamal Musiala (Bayern Munich), Leroy Sane (Bayern Munich) — Kai Hartz (Chelsea).
Big question: Can Hansie Fleck bring back the swagger to a team still feeling the effects of back-to-back disappointments in 2018 and 2021?
Pulse: Only Brazil can match Germany when it comes to World Cup trophies. This iteration of Die Mannschaft, however, feels less predictable than ever.
This is not to say that there is a lack of cohesion or fighting in the camp, it is just that Germany for a long time as we know it was led by Joachim Low. Back in 2006, Lowe, an unknown, took over for Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest is history.
Now Flack – who served as Low’s long-term assistant, including in 2014 when Germany beat Brazil before beating Argentina in the final – is the man in charge. Another collection of great players is at his disposal. As they dominated qualifying but failed to impress in recent United Nations League fixtures, it is unclear which German team will feature in Qatar.
The X Factor: Timo Werner will miss the World Cup through injury and although that is welcome news for some fans considering the former Chelsea man’s problems in front of goal, the flick is without many options. Let him lead the line in his 4-2-3-1. Enter Kai Havertz, who has also been slow for Chelsea this season. The forward, labeled “lazy” by pundits after his ineptitude led to Arsenal’s winning goal during the league games in November, will have to find the goals to make the run for Germany. do
Breakout Candidate: We are dealing with hyperbole in the world of football. You did it, I did it, we all have. Assessing the potential rate of young people breaking into the scene is an old story but don’t panic when I say Jamal Musila is the real deal. The Stuttgart native moved to England at a young age and was a member of Chelsea’s academy before returning home to join Bayern Munich. Now, the 19-year-old midfielder is being touted as the next great talent to come out of Germany.
FIFA World Ranking: 24
Top scorer in qualifying: Takumi Minamino (nine goals)
Odds of winning the World Cup: +608 (via Sports Interact)
Previous World Cup appearances: 6
Best appearances: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)
2018 World Cup: 15of the (Round 16)
Editor: Haji Moriasu
Possible formation: 4-2-3-1
Probable starting XI: Shuichi Gonda (Shimizu S Plus) – Hiroki Sakai (Arova Red Diamonds), Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04), Taihiro Tomiyasu (Arsenal) – Wataru Ando (VfB Stuttgart), Hidemasa Morita (Jun or C P) (Reims), Daichi Kamada (Eintracht Frankfurt), Takumi Minamino (Monaco) – Takuma Asano (VfL Bochum).
Big question: Will manager Hajime Moriasu’s decision leave a few veterans at home in favor of younger, hungry players?
Pulse: Moriasu didn’t pull any punches when opening the Japan squad.
“Choosing members with experience was an option, but ultimately we decided to bet on players who don’t have it but have burning aspirations to succeed in the World Cup,” he said.
The manager is banking on the “burning ambition” of the 19 players who will start the World Cup in Qatar. In terms of long-term plans, it’s a promising one, but tournaments like this don’t come around often, and the pressure on the players assembled for this daunting task will only increase as the games against Germany and Spain draw closer.
The X Factor: Takehiro Tomiyasu has endeared himself to Arsenal supporters following a deadline day transfer in the summer of 2021. The defender has been deployed in several defensive positions, including at left and right back by Mikel Arteta, but he will be at the base alongside captain Maya Yoshida from the back. This is a reliable, versatile pair at the center. At 29, Rams’ Junia Eto’o is a relatively late bloomer and one of the oldest players in the squad, but he is a beacon of light on his manager’s wing.
Breakout Candidate: Where the goals will come from for Japan remains a question mark. Takumi Minamino has excelled in talent, but club life with Monaco has yet to bear fruit. Celtic man Daisen Maeda got the call while his Scotland team-mates, Kyogo Furuhashi and Ryo Hotate, did not. Maeda’s incredible work rate may be the reason why his ability to deal with back lines in mistakes is unique among his peers.
A bold prediction for Group E
Germany and Spain reached the round of 16, but Japan made it especially scary for La Roja in the final group game.