World Cup Preview - Group E

23.11.2022 08:22:59 Bradley Lobo
Sergio Busquets of Spain

Germany 

The Lowdown

The four-time champions qualified for their 20th World Cup with relative ease. The only two times Germany haven’t made it was when they didn’t enter in 1930 and were banned in 1950. The Germans are always there and almost aways a threat to win the competition. Die Mannschaft will be looking to redeem themselves after a disastrous defence of their 2014 crown in Russia four years ago when they went out at the group stage. 

 

The Manger/Style of Play

Hansi Flick – the ideal candidate to replace Joachim Löw when his 15-year reign finally came to an end after Euro 2020. Flick worked as an assistant to Löw when Germany lifted the World Cup in 2014 and got his big break taking over as head coach of Bayern Munich in 2019. He achieved unprecedented success by winning every trophy available in his first 15 months in charge. A domestic treble along with the Champions League, European Super Cup and Club World Cup becoming only the second man in history after Pep Guardiola to achieve a “Sextuple”. Flick’s Bayern teams dominated the ball and worked hard to press when out of possession. His attempts to implement the same style at international level have brought varying degrees of success so far. Germany have some excellent players in the middle and wide areas but struggle in both boxes. Flick doesn’t have a striker of Robert Lewandowski's calibre like he did at Bayern and the defence has proven shaky at times.

 

The Captain

Manuel Neuer – will play at his fourth consecutive World Cup and is still one of the best goalkeepers on the planet at 35 years of age. A big character and an imposing figure when rushing out of his goal to confront strikers or play as a “sweeper-keeper”. Neuer may well have to compensate for Germany’s lack of a strong defence.

 

The Key Man

Joshua Kimmich – one of the rare cases where a young player has been compared to a legendary figure and actually lived up to the billing. Kimmich was touted a as a replacement for 2014 World Cup winning captain Phillip Lahm and has emulated him in almost every way. Much like Lahm, he started as a right-back but now patrols and dictates play from midfield. He has matched the great man at club level with Bayern and now hopes to do the same on the world stage.

 

The One to Watch

Jamal Musiala – a 19-year-old prodigy who is likely to keep Thomas Müller out of the team despite the veteran’s excellent scoring record at World Cups. Musiala’s skill, dribbling ability and overall unpredictability adds a different dimension to an otherwise fairly ordered German side.

 

Verdict

1stGermany should have enough to advance to the knockout stage, but top spot isn’t a guarantee with fellow European giants Spain in the group. Japan and Costa Rica could also cause problems. 

 

Costa Rica

The Lowdown

Costa Rica didn’t qualify for a World Cup until 1990 but this will be their sixth appearance since then and third in a row. 2014 in Brazil brought their greatest success topping a group that included England, Italy and Uruguay before ultimately going out on penalties to the Dutch in the quarter-finals. Many of the same prominent players from 2014 remain in the squad like Keylor Navas, Oscar Duarte, Bryan Oviedo, Celso Borges Bryan Ruiz and Joel Campbell, but there has also been an influx of new talent. Qualification didn’t start smoothly with just 1 win from their opening 7 matches, but they improved drastically with 6 wins and a draw to finish 4th in the CONCACAF Group. The trip to Qatar was ultimately booked with a resolute 1-0 win over New Zealand in an intercontinental play-off.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Luis Fernando Suárez will manage at his third World Cup each time with a different country. His best result was taking Ecuador to the last 16 in 2006, before being eliminated at the group stage with Honduras in 2014. The Colombian coach hasn’t been afraid to experiment with his team selection, but tactics are a little less imaginative. Costa Rica will likely line up in a mid-to-low block with two banks of four and look to hit teams on the break. Understandable considering some of the giants they’ll come up against in this group.

 

The Captain

Bryan Ruiz – will lead his country in a third consecutive World Cup. Has scored more goals for Costa Rica than any other player in the current squad with 29 in 146 caps. Premier League fans will remember him from his time at Fulham where he made almost a century of appearances. A technically gifted player but he isn’t a guaranteed starter anymore at 37 years of age, the oldest in the squad.

 

The Key Man

Keylor Navas will likely wear the captain’s armband if Ruiz isn’t in the starting line-up. An unsung hero from Real Madrid’s unprecedented three consecutive Champions League triumphs where he was first choice goalkeeper. Navas will also be going to his third straight World Cup and was named as one of the best three keepers at the 2014 finals in Brazil. Was pivotal in getting Costa Rica to Qatar conceding just once in their last 7 qualifying matches. 

 

The One to Watch

Jewison Bennette – the youngest player to ever represent Costa Rica. The 18-year-old winger currently plies his trade at Sunderland in the Championship but seems destined for greener pastures. Already made a telling contribution for his country with an assist for Joel Campbell’s decisive goal in the play-off win over New Zealand.

 

Verdict

4thTough to completely write them off after the way they upset the applecart in 2014 and they appear to revel in the underdog mentality, but they do have the weakest squad overall.

 

Japan

The Lowdown

Japan didn’t compete at a World Cup until 1998 but have been a constant since then and are appearing in their seventh consecutive finals. They have alternated going out in the group stage and the last 16 but have set an ambitious target of reaching at least the quarter-finals this time around. Qualifying was a marathon that lasted two and a half years, but Japan got there relatively comfortably despite a couple of blips in the middle of their campaign.

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Hajime Moriyasu has not been afraid to make bold decisions in leaving out some of the old guard from previous competitions and trying to blood new players. Kyogo Furuhashi was also a surprise omission from the squad having scored 22 goals in 33 games for Celtic. Another brave call considering Japan only have two players in double figures for goals and neither of them are strikers. The manager appears to put the team ethic before any individuals and the Japanese are known for being an extremely hard-working unit. The pragmatic coach is likely to adopt a defence-first strategy and look to utilise pace in the wide areas on the counter-attack.

 

The Captain

Maya Yoshida – the former Southampton and Sampdoria defender is still plying his trade at a high level with Schalke in the Bundesliga. The 34-year-old will form a key partnership in central defence with Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu in what looks like one of Japan’s strongest areas on the pitch.

 

The Key Man

Daichi Kamada – the most in-form Japanese player at the moment. Kamada has scored 12 goals in 22 appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt this season and netted in his last three Champions League matches to help his side into the knockout stage. An attacking midfielder who may end up being his country’s biggest goal threat.

 

The One to Watch

Junya Ito – an electric winger who has only come to prominence for his country in recent years. The 29-year-old has 7 goals in his last 17 appearances for Japan including some crucial ones in the qualifying campaign for Qatar. Struck 4 times in 12 games since moving to Reims in Ligue 1.

 

Verdict

3rdGetting to the knockout stage would be a massive achievement but it only seems possible if one of the big boys, Spain or Germany, completely underperform.

 

Spain

The Lowdown

Spain are set to embark on their 16th World Cup journey and their 11th in a row since 1978. The fact that they’ve only ever lifted the trophy once seems disproportionate to the amount of top-level talent they produce.  Since their sole victory at South Africa 2010, La Roja have put in disappointing back-to-back efforts going out in the group stage in 2014 and in the last 16 in 2018. Spain started their qualifying campaign poorly with a draw against Greece but won all their other games apart from a surprise defeat in Sweden. 

 

The Manager/Style of Play

Luis Enrique will take charge at his first World Cup after guiding his country to the semi-finals at Euro 2020 last summer. Already a legend at Barcelona as a player, his recognition grew in Catalonia when he won 5 trophies as manager including the Treble. Unsurprisingly he likes his teams to dominate possession in a 4-3-3 formation much like Barca have traditionally done for years. The lack of a clinical striker has been a problem for the Spanish in recent tournaments and Alvaro Morata has never quite fit that bill despite constantly working hard for the team. Enrique likes his teams to press and win the ball back high up the pitch but that can leave them exposed to counter-attacks. 

 

The Captain

Sergio Busquets – the oldest and most capped player in the squad with 139 appearances for La Roja. The midfield metronome has been arguably the best in his position for many years and continues to compensate for his ageing legs with an almost unrivalled sharpness of the mind.

 

The Key Man

Pedri – Arguably the brightest young talent in the world and now he has the stage to prove it. Pedri already announced himself on the international stage with some excellent displays at the European championship last summer earning himself the Young Player of the Tournament award. Sublime technique and the ability to get out of tight spaces combined with the fact he almost never gives the ball away, makes him perfect for the Spanish system.

 

The One to Watch

Gavithe youngest player in the squad at just 18-years-old and Pedri’s partner-in-crime at Barcelona. The duo have stepped into the shoes of the legendary Xavi and Andreas Iniesta for both club and country. 

 

Verdict

2ndShould be between them and Germany for top spot. Japan and Costa Rica could cause them problems but anything less than progression to the knockout stage would be a huge failure.

 

 

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