The start of the 2022 FIFA World Cup is 13 days away and in the build-up to the tournament we are looking at what football lovers can expect in each of the eight groups. In this segment, we take a look at Group E, which is made up of former champions Spain and Germany, and minnows Japan and Costa Rica. If Spain and Germany justify their billing, it won’t be difficult for them to progress from this group.
Here is all you need to know about Group E which offers an engrossing showdown between title contenders Spain and Germany.
FIFA ranking: 7
Head coach: Luis Enrique
Possession football is Spain's blessing and bane. La Rojas are wonderful at passing the ball and have the quality to destroy any opponents. At the same time, their approach can be boring to watch and their death-by-passing strategy could hurt them. Spain could not live up to their potential at the 2018 World Cup and the 2020 Euro Cup. However, they showed glimpses of return to form by reaching the final of the 2021 UEFA Nations Cup. With veteran tactician Luis Enrique at the helm, Spain are expected to stick to their tried-and-tested possession game.
Spain have some prolific midfielders in their ranks. Veteran Sergio Busquets and young guns Pedri and Gavi play free and fluid soccer with a strong command in the midfield.
Spain do not have a striker of the quality of David Villa. Alvaro Morata, the country's eighth highest goalscorer who is set to lead the attack, is highly inconsistent. Barcelona wingers Ferran Torres and Ansu Fati will have to be at their best.
FIFA ranking: 11
Head coach: Hansi Flick
Germany head to Qatar without the aura of invincibility. After cruising through qualifiers, they crashed out of the 2018 edition in Russia at the group stage, falling at the first hurdle of their title defence. In the inaugural edition of the UEFA Nations Cup, they finished last in their group. In the 2020 Euro Cup, they could not go beyond the last-16 stage. However, a revival could be on the cards. In January, they ran riot in their Nations League match against Italy, winning 5-2. German fans will be hoping that Flick will be able to replicate his magic at Bayern Munich where he won an incredible seven titles and led them to a pair of Bundesliga titles in two seasons.
Germany possess an extremely skilled squad that play effective soccer. Be it the 36-year-old goalkeeper Manuel Neuer or the 19-year-old midfielder Jamal Musiala, each player adds to their collective strength.
Apart from Real Madrid's Antonio Rudiger, Germany do not have a solid defender in their ranks. The gaffer does not have full confidence in West Ham United's Thilo Kehrer or RB Leipzig's David Raum.
FIFA ranking: 24
Head coach: Hajime Moriyasu
If Japan follow the pattern of their last six appearances, they are likely to be taking an early flight home from Qatar. In Russia 2018, they were within 20 minutes of making it to the quarterfinals, but allowed Belgium to fight back from two down and lost the match 3-2. Japan play an attractive brand of football, but they lack confidence and experience on the big stage. Japan can count on a group of reliable players with plenty of European experience. Their key player is defensive midfielder Wataru Endo, who captains Bundesliga side VfB Stuttgart. In his first full season at Stuttgart, Endo was the Bundesliga's leader in terms of challenges.
Flexibility is Japan's main strength. They are wired to adapt to any situation and any style of play.
The lack of a killer instinct. They do know how to see out a game. Scoring goals is another area of concern. In the qualification rounds, Japan scored only 10 goals in 12 matches.
FIFA ranking: 31
Head coach: Luis Fernando Suarez
Costa Rica took part in four of the last five World Cups and made it to the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014. Going by their average age, Costa Rica will be among the most experienced teams to strut the Qatari pitches. Goalkeeper Keylor Navas and winger Bryan Ruiz, who were part of their squad in Brazil, will be seen in action at Qatar 2022 as well. The 35-year-old Navas is their key man. In 2014, they topped a group comprising former champions England and Italy. The draw has pitted them against two former champions this time around as well.
Their defence is pretty strong. Costa Rica are experts at defending very deep in their own territory and taking the game to extra-time and penalty shootout.
Costa Rica have been struggling to find the net in recent times. Joel Campbell, who scored only three goals, was their top-scorer in qualification rounds. It is to be seen how their aging defence will hold on their own in matches that go beyond 90 minutes.