If Germany are to avoid the ignominy of consecutive World Cup group stage exits, they will need to earn a positive result against a Spain side that looked like the team’s most dangerous team after the opening round.
After finishing bottom of the group in Russia 2018, the tournament went to defending champion Germany, which was a historic low for the four-time World Cup winner. It marked the first time in 80 years that the German national team had not been able to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Now with coach Hansi Flick at the helm after Joachim Löw finally stepped down after 15 years in charge, a repeat of that performance in Russia is unlikely.
But after a shock 2-1 defeat in Japan in their opening match, once again is a distinct possibility.
Former national coach Jurgen Klinsmann accused Germany players of thinking they were “on board” after ılkay Gündoğan took a first-half penalty against Japan.
Germany’s failure to capitalize on their control kept Japan in the game and, perhaps most concerning for the four-time champion, Flick was unable to successfully counter Hajime Moriyasu’s tactical changes which eventually led to a comeback.
So it turned out that the match against Spain was do-or-die for Germany, as defeat confirmed an early flight at home to Qatar. Certainly, the unfavorable situation for Flick and his men, especially after the 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica in the opening game, followed Spain.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Spanish victory will be more of a chance for Luis Enrique’s men or if the opponent will be downright terrifying, with Costa Rica rivaling host Qatar for the tag of worst team in the World Cup so far.
Germany will make the case for this Spain side in Qatar much clearer, but the victory has understandably raised a good deal of hope that this team is a genuine contender.
World Cup teams have trained in a tighter and more private camp than usual, but Spain head coach Luis Enrique has taken a low-key approach to the transition period behind closed doors.
The 52-year-old, who recently posted a shirtless photo of himself on Instagram looking in great shape, took part in a regular Q&As with fans via a live streaming service and promised to keep it up as long as Spain remains in the competition.
Enrique also revealed that he was happy for the players to lie down at the World Cup – other national coaches had previously been shamefully banned from participating in the team’s intimate activities.
Certainly the good vibes inside Spain’s camp and victory over Germany will ensure passage through the round of 16 with a game to spare.
In the other group E match, Japan knows that a victory over Costa Rica will guarantee their place in the knockout stages.
The Samurai Blue moved the all-time great World Cup by beating Germany for the first time in their history and will want to avoid having to go to the final group game against Spain in need of a sure result.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, is playing for the pride of how many points they suffered against Japan after the Central Americans dropped a seven-goal thrashing to Spain.
Los Ticos they have generally acquitted themselves well on the World Cup stage, the highlight coming in that historic quarter-final run in Brazil 2014, and manager Luis Fernando Suárez will be keen to prove that the opening day event was just a day’s work.
It’s fair to say that Canada head coach John Herdman’s comments in the wake of his side’s 1-0 defeat in Belgium did not go down well in Croatia.
When asked what the message was to his players at the time, the Englishman told them “that he is here.”
“And we are going to go to Croatia,” he added.
To that boss’s opinion, the Croatian newspaper 24 Sata ran a picture of Herdman naked with a smile on his face, with nothing but a Canadian Maple leaf to defend his modesty.
Canada outplayed leggy-looking Belgium for much of their opening match and had a glorious chance to take an early lead from the penalty spot, but star man Alphonso Davies’ effort was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium then found the breakthrough thanks to Michy Batshuayi’s clinical finish on goal and Canada, despite sustaining the pressure, had no response.
Croatia, runners-up four years ago, stumbled to a goal against Morocco in their opening match and will be hoping for a much better performance against the Canadians.
Already 37 years of age, the captain Luka Modric probably played in the last World Cup and watched Croatia’s heroics against the North Africans, recently coming to numerous challenges and somehow avoiding a yellow card.
So far, what has made this team such a threat over the years, Modric and the Real Madrid man, need to rival their absolute best in Croatia, which they produced in Russia four years ago.
Belgium will also need a huge improvement on its scrappy opening round win against Canada, as the country’s “golden generation” of stars embark on what is likely their last real push to make a deep run in a major competition.
In midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium possesses arguably the best player in the world but, like the rest of his teammates, the Manchester City star was well below his standards against Canada.
Morocco, however, looks likely to provide another tough test for Robert Martinez’s Belgium side.
The team looked compact and organized against Croatia and will probably feel as if it was a good chance to collect all three points after they created two excellent chances.
The Atlas Lions have only progressed past the World Cup group stages once in their history and this side will be confident of earning a solid result against Belgium and taking one step towards emulating the team of 1986.
Japan vs. Costa Rica: 5 am ET
Belgium at Mexico: 8 am ET
Croatia vs. Canada: 11 am ET
Spain at Germany: 2 pm ET
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC