Germany suffered a shock 2-1 defeat by Japan on Wednesday despite taking the lead
Spain administered a 7-0 thrashing against Costa Rica in their opening encounter
Could Germany go out in the group stage for the second successive World Cup?
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When Germany traveled to Russia for World Cup 2018, they chose to be based near Moscow because that is where they would play a potential semi-final provided they won Group F.
That hubris came back to bite them. Never mind the semis, Germany did not even reach the round of 16. Remarkably, the reigning champions finished bottom of Group F behind Sweden, Mexico, and South Korea.
Germany have only played 90 minutes at World Cup 2022, but they are in danger of crashing out in the group stage for the second tournament running. That would be unthinkable for the four-time winners, who arrive at virtually every World Cup with the ambition of lifting the trophy.
A 2-1 defeat by Japan has left the Nationalelf in a precarious position. Another loss on Sunday would ensure their elimination before the knockout phase. What is worse, they must face one of the pre-tournament favorites to go all the way this winter.
It was hard to envisage Germany being in this situation after 65 minutes of their clash with Japan on Wednesday. Already leading 1-0, Hansi Flick’s team had created numerous other golden chances to find the back of the net. They looked to be in full control; it was surely only a matter of time before the Germans killed the game off by scoring a second.
Instead, Japan - led by second-half substitutes sent on by Hajime Moriyasu - left their illustrious opponents stunned with goals from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano. A combination of slack defending and profligate finishing proved costly for Germany, who could barely believe what had happened.
Spain’s first match in Qatar could hardly have been more different from Germany’s. Luis Enrique’s side registered their biggest-ever World Cup victory, thrashing Costa Rica 7-0 at the Al Thumama Stadium. After surprise wins for Saudi Arabia and Japan in the competition’s first few days, there would be no shock in that match.
Costa Rica offered scant resistance, but Spain were magnificent in their opening encounter. A team that tends to control the ball in every match it contests did not fall into the trap of retaining possession for its own sake. Spain zipped the ball around with purpose, and their sharp, snappy combinations were simply too much for Costa Rica to handle.
It was exactly the type of performance that Luis Enrique would have wanted to see. Needless to say, stiffer challenges lie ahead. But Spain found a promising balance between possession and directness, with the likes of Gavi, Pedri, Ferran Torres, and Dani Olmo all capable of injecting speed into the play at any time.
The main question mark over this team going into the tournament was whether they would score enough goals. The demolition of Costa Rica suggests that is unlikely to be too big an issue, although Spain will not face another defense that is quite so pliant.
Meanwhile, la Roja’s own backline was barely troubled, vindicating Luis Enrique’s decision to pair Aymeric Laporte with Rodri, a midfielder by trade, in the center of defense. Along with holding midfielder Sergio Busquets, that gave Spain three top-class progressive passers from deep, ensuring a constant supply of balls between the lines for Pedri, Gavi, and others to collect.
Spain will see Sunday’s game as a two-pronged opportunity. Most importantly, they can seal their place in the knockout phase with a win. After witnessing Japan’s exploits on matchday one, Luis Enrique will not want to leave anything to their final Group E game.
Secondly, Spain have a chance to knock out one of the leading contenders to win this competition. That could help them later in the tournament, and the likes of Brazil, France, and England would also be happy to see Germany sent home early. All of those teams know that, despite their surprise loss last time out, the Nationalelf are one of the strongest sides on the planet.
Whereas Spain will be full of confidence after their historic thumping of Costa Rica, Germany may second guess themselves. Flick admitted on Wednesday that his team have got themselves into an unfavorable situation.
“Of course with this defeat and zero points, we are under pressure, there's no question about that,” the Germany boss Flick said after the match.
There were positives to take from their performance against Japan, with Jamal Musiala particularly impressive. Germany created plenty of opportunities and they are unlikely to be quite so wasteful a second time.
But Spain were superb in their first game and look set to go far at this World Cup. Able to play with more freedom than their upcoming opponents, back la Roja to come out on top.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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