Two former World Cup winners – Spain and Germany – are the clear favorites to progress, and their encounter on November 27 is the showpiece of the first round. Stingy Japan has a strong team and is the most likely of the other two teams to upset the natural order if one of the giants slips up. As for aging Costa Rica, surviving the first round will be an extremely difficult task.
Coach: Luis Enrique
Highest finish: Winners (2010)
Finish 2018: Round of 16
FOX betting odds: +800
Key players: Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, Alvaro Morata
What we’re excited to watch: Spain finally outgrew its conquering golden generation; Busquets, the captain, is the only player left from their 2010 World Cup-winning squad. Enrique’s revamped Roja is now ready for his moment.
What success looks like: Although they are capable of winning it all, they are probably four years away from being a legitimate title favorite. That said, a quarter-final berth is the bare minimum.
Achilles’ heel: Story. For all their skill and experience, Spain have punched below their weight at World Cups with the exception of 2010. They have never gone past the quarters in 11 other tournament appearances.
X factor: Gavi. The 18-year-old playmaker has been a La Roja regular since his debut last year, and he has the potential to become a star on the biggest stage.
Three things you need to know about Spain
Alexi Lalas gives us three things we need to know about Spain ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Highest finish: Quarter-finals (2014)
Finish 2018: Round of 16
FOX betting odds: +75000
Key players: Celso Borges, Joel Campbell, Keylor Navas
What we’re excited to watch: If Costa Rica are to advance against the odds, they will certainly have to win their second game in Qatar, against Japan on November 27.
What success looks like: Getting out of such a difficult group would be a triumph.
Achilles’ heel: Age. It’s unclear how long the Ticos have been in the tooth. Borges is 34 years old. Navas is 35 years old. Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica’s all-time top scorer, is 37. Even Campbell is now on the wrong side of 30.
X factor: Navas. The three-time UEFA Champions League winner hasn’t played a minute for Paris Saint-Germain this season after losing his starting job. It means the best player in Costa Rica’s history – he single-handedly led the Ticos to the quarter-finals in 2014 – has something to prove in Qatar.
Three things you need to know about Costa Rica
Alexi Lalas gives us three things we need to know about Costa Rica.
Coach: Movie Hansi
Highest finish: Winners (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
Finish 2018: Group stage
FOX betting odds: +1000
Key players: Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Müller, Antonio Rüdiger
What we’re excited to watch: Aside from a surprising loss to Hungary, Germany have been superb since Flick replaced long-serving manager Jogi Loew last year. It’s the World Cup though. This game against Spain will tell us where they really are.
What success looks like: Germany enters all major tournaments knowing they can win. As much as it would be enough to make a deep run after the shock of their group stage exit four years ago (and the round of 16 loss to blood rivals England at last year’s Euros ), Die Mannschaft will always be disappointed if they don’t claim a fifth world title.
Achilles’ heel: Composition of the list. This is a team built to win Euro 2024 on home soil; the 2022 version is caught between two generations, with the thirties Muller, Manuel Neuer and Ilkay Gundogan on one side and the teenagers Youssoufa Moukoko and Jamal Musiala on the other.
X factor: Moukoko. At only 17, the uncapped striker already has 11 goals in 44 Bundesliga matches. Having made the squad in place of injured veteran Marco Reus, he will be among the youngest entrants in World Cup history if he steps onto the pitch.
Three things you need to know about Germany
Alexi Lalas gives us three things we need to know about Germany.
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Highest finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, 2018)
Finish 2018: Round of 16
FOX betting odds: +25000
Key players: Daichi Kamada, Takumi Minamino, Takehiro Tomiyasu
What we’re excited to watch: Japan relishes the underdog role and tends to exceed expectations. In 2018 they outlasted a group containing Colombia, Poland and Senegal and then gave Belgium all they could handle in the second round. Don’t be shocked if they disturb one of their decorated European enemies.
What success looks like: Qualifying for the first round at back-to-back World Cups would be an unprecedented feat for the Blue Samurai. Winning a knockout match for the first time would be even better.
Achilles’ heel: Rating. The four forwards of Japan’s 26-man squad have just 10 international goals between them.
X factor: Defense. With a backline led by Arsenal centre-back Tomiyasu and captain Maya Yoshida, Japan are ultra-disciplined and organized defensively, making them extremely difficult for opponents to break. Teams that don’t score can’t be beaten, even by teams like Germany or Spain.
Three things to know about Japan
Alexi Lalas gives us three things we need to know about Japan.
MORE GROUP PREVIEWS: GROUP A | GROUP B | GROUP C | GROUP D | GROUP F
Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Prior to joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer at ESPN and Yahoo Sports and covered the United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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