Everything you need to know about Group E at the World Cup

Spain

Costa Rica

Japan

Germany

Costa Rica

Japan

Spain

Germany

Spain

Costa Rica

Germany

Japan

Costa Rica

Germany

Japan

Spain

Any time previous World Cup winners are drawn in the same group, things are sure to get interesting. Add in the fact that those former champions — in this year’s case, Spain and Germany — have won their most recent titles in the past 12 years and there’s another layer of intrigue. The European rivals, both now ranked in FIFA’s top 11, will certainly be vying for the top spot. Japan (No. 24) and Costa Rica (No. 31) have both played the spoiler in the group stage in previous tournaments and will be ready to jump on any missteps.

Here’s a closer look at Group E, which kicks off Nov. 23 when Germany meets Japan and Spain faces Costa Rica.

Spain

For a four-year stretch last decade, there was no better team in the world than Spain, and it had the trophies to prove it. La Roja won three major titles from 2008 to 2012 — two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup — and with its distinctive tactics changed the general understanding of what national teams could do. Now 10 years since its last trophy, Spain is still searching for the next iteration of its identity as a squad. Luis Enrique hopes he can discover it in time for Qatar.

Spain

in the World Cup

Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982 and won it in 2010.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

Netherlands 0,

Spain 1

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Spain

in the World Cup

Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982 and won it in 2010.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

Netherlands 0,

Spain 1

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Spain

in the World Cup

Spain hosted the World Cup in 1982 and won it in 2010.

Champion

Final

Netherlands 0, Spain 1

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

In the decade since the Euro 2012 final, Spain has mostly disappointed at major tournaments. It failed to advance out of the group stage at the 2014 World Cup, the fifth defending champion to do so, and then exited in the round of 16 in Russia four years later. Spain thrived during those glory years perfecting its “tiki-taka” style, a tactical system in which players seek to dominate the ball through pressing, possession and short passes, but after 2012, the rest of the world began to catch up and learn how to counter.

Spain made a breakthrough last summer at Euro 2020, reaching the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time since 2012. It followed that performance with a trip to the UEFA Nations League final three months later. The Spaniards lost on both occasions and struggled to find the net in their final two World Cup qualifiers in UEFA’s Group B last fall, but still managed to avoid a playoff and automatically qualified with a win over Sweden in November 2021.

Coach

Luis Enrique

Projected lineup

J. Alba

Pedri

P. Sarabia

A. Laporte

U. Simon

S. Busquets

A. Morata

Eric García

F. Torres

Gavi

Dani Carvajal

Coach

Luis Enrique

Projected lineup

J. Alba

Pedri

P. Sarabia

A. Laporte

U. Simon

S. Busquets

A. Morata

Eric García

F. Torres

Gavi

Dani Carvajal

Projected lineup

J. Alba

Pedri

P. Sarabia

A. Laporte

A. Morata

U. Simon

S. Busquets

Eric García

F. Torres

Gavi

Coach

Luis Enrique

52 years old

Dani Carvajal

La Roja has no trouble dominating the ball and controlling possession, but the absence of a quality high-scoring striker since David Villa’s retirement was on display during the qualifying campaign. Barcelona’s Ferran Torres led with four goals, but Spain as a team managed only 15 across the eight matches. Atlético Madrid’s Álvaro Morata had a string of high-profile scoring struggles leading up to Euro 2020, but has six goals since last July. Captain Sergio Busquets (Barcelona) and Manchester City midfielder Rodri will help the cause, and it can fall back on an experienced back line, led by Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal.

Ansu Fati could help fill the void at striker — the 20-year-old became the youngest scorer in Spanish national team history in 2020 and inherited the iconic No. 10 shirt at Barcelona after Lionel Messi’s departure. That scoring record was shattered two years later by his Barcelona teammate, Gavi, who in June scored his first senior goal in a Nations League match.

The star

Pedri

19 years old, Tegueste, Spain

FC Barcelona

National

team stats

14

0

games

goals

The star

Pedri

19 years old, Tegueste, Spain

FC Barcelona

National

team stats

14

games

0

goals

The star

Pedri

19 years old, Tegueste, Spain

FC Barcelona

National team stats

14

0

games

goals

Pedri will still be a teenager when he arrives in Qatar — he’ll turn 20 on Nov. 25 — but he already boasts a stacked résumé. The Barcelona midfielder was named to the team of the tournament at Euro 2020 after playing more than 600 minutes across six starts for Spain. (After the tournament, Enrique said he hadn’t seen a showing like that at a European Championship from any 18-year-old, not even legendary Spanish midfielder Andrés Iniesta.) Less than two weeks later, Pedri flew to Japan and helped Spain’s squad earn an Olympic silver medal at the Tokyo Games. He’s sure to make an impact at his first World Cup.

Costa Rica

Los Ticos hold the distinction of being the final team to qualify for this year’s World Cup — they defeated New Zealand in a June playoff to secure their third consecutive trip to the tournament. This was their toughest qualification cycle of the past 20 years, and it will be even trickier to escape this World Cup group.

Costa Rica

in the World Cup

This will be Costa Rica’s sixth appearance in the World Cup. Its best result was reaching the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Costa Rica

in the World Cup

This will be Costa Rica’s sixth appearance in the World Cup. Its best result was reaching the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Costa Rica

in the World Cup

This will be Costa Rica’s sixth appearance in the World Cup. Its best result was reaching the quarterfinals in Brazil 2014.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

The third-smallest country in Central America has an impressive history of reaching the World Cup. Of its six previous successful qualifying campaigns, it finished in the top two of the Concacaf table in four of them. Costa Rica was a darling of Brazil 2014, finishing first in a group that featured three other World Cup winners in Uruguay, Italy and England. It lost on penalties to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, and followed up that run with a group-stage exit in 2018.

In their first eight games of this qualifying cycle, the Costa Ricans won only two and loitered near the bottom of the table as the second part of the campaign approached. When the new year arrived, though, Los Ticos went unbeaten in six. Despite Costa Rica’s win over the United States in its final game, goal differential determined it would head to an inter-confederation playoff for a spot in the World Cup. Playing at Al-Rayyan Stadium (set to host seven games), it went ahead early on a third-minute goal from Joel Campbell and held New Zealand scoreless for the remainder of the match to earn a return visit to Qatar.

Coach

Luis Fernando

Suárez

Projected lineup

B. Oviedo

J. Bennette

F. Calvo

Y. Tejeda

J. Campbell

K. Navas

Ó. Duarte

C. Borges

Contreras

G. Torres

K. Fuller

Coach

Luis Fernando

Suárez

Projected lineup

B. Oviedo

J. Bennette

F. Calvo

Y. Tejeda

J. Campbell

K. Navas

Ó. Duarte

C. Borges

Contreras

G. Torres

K. Fuller

Projected lineup

B. Oviedo

J. Bennette

F. Calvo

Y. Tejeda

J. Campbell

K. Navas

Ó. Duarte

Contreras

C. Borges

G. Torres

Coach

Luis Fernando Suárez

62 years old

K. Fuller

The majority of Costa Rica’s players spend their club season in the country’s own league — mostly at Alajuelense and Herediano, Liga FPD’s top two clubs — but there are a few notable exceptions. Left back Bryan Oviedo moved to MLS’s Real Salt Lake this summer after more than 10 years in Europe. Campbell had three goals during qualifying and is off to a good start to the Mexican club season with León. Winger Jewison Bennette is only 18, but he could be the country’s next big star: Days after scoring his first goal for English side Sunderland in September, he found the net twice for Costa Rica in a friendly.

The star

Keylor Navas

35 years old, San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica

Paris Saint-Germain

National

team stats

107

games

107

goals

conceded

The star

Keylor Navas

35 years old, San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica

Paris Saint-Germain

National

team stats

107

games

107

goals

conceded

The star

Keylor Navas

35 years old, San Isidro de El General, Costa Rica

Paris Saint-Germain

National team stats

107

107

goals conceded

games

Keylor Navas has twice been named the Concacaf player of the year to go along with three best goalkeeper awards. On the club level, he won three consecutive Champions League titles as the starter for Real Madrid and has claimed two league crowns since moving to Paris Saint-Germain in 2019. At Brazil 2014, he kept three clean sheets in five matches — most memorably in the round of 16, holding Greece scoreless through normal time and a penalty shootout when his team was down to 10 men. Navas is no longer a regular starter in Europe, but he still had eight clean sheets in World Cup qualifying.

Germany

For Germany, the past two major tournaments brought only disappointment. The four-time World Cup winner didn’t advance out of the group stage in 2018 and barely reached the knockout round at Euro 2020 before bouncing out to England in the round of 16. With a new coach in charge and a refreshed team identity, Germany hopes this tournament has a much different result.

Germany

in the World Cup

Germany hosted the World Cup in 1974 and 2006, and won it in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

West Germany 3,

Hungary 2

’38

Suspended from FIFA

’50

’54

’58

Netherlands 1,

West Germany 2

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

West Germany 1, Argentina 0

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

Germany 1,

Argentina 0

’06

’10

’14

’18

Germany

in the World Cup

Germany hosted the World Cup in 1974 and 2006, and won it in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

West Germany 3,

Hungary 2

’38

Suspended from FIFA

’50

’54

’58

Netherlands 1,

West Germany 2

’62

’66

’70

’74

West Germany 1, Argentina 0

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

Germany 1,

Argentina 0

’06

’10

’14

’18

Germany

in the World Cup

Germany hosted the World Cup in 1974 and 2006, and won it in 1954, 1974, 1990 and 2014.

West Germany 1,

Argentina 0

West Germany 3,

Hungary 2

Netherlands 1,

West Germany 2

Germany 1,

Argentina 0

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Suspended

from FIFA

Group stage

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Those early tournament exits both happened under the watch of Joachim Löw, who led the Germans to a third-place World Cup finish in 2010 and the title in 2014. In March 2021 — the same month in which Germany lost a World Cup qualifier for just the third time in its history — Löw announced he would step down after the summer’s European Championship. Now more than a year removed from the defeat to England, the Germans have seen a resurgence at the hands of new manager Hansi Flick (an assistant under Löw in 2014) and with a core of players from perennial Bundesliga champion Bayern Munich.

The remainder of the World Cup qualifying campaign offered the first real opportunity for Flick to impose a new identity on this German side, and his plans worked. Germany was the first team, outside of the host, to officially qualify for Qatar, beating North Macedonia in October 2021 to finish at the top of UEFA’s Group J.

Coach

Hansi Flick

Projected lineup

D. Raum

L. Sané

J. Kimmich

A. Rüdiger

M. Neuer

T. Müller

K. Havertz

N. Süle

L. Goretzka

S.Gnabry

L. Klostermann

Coach

Hansi Flick

Projected lineup

D. Raum

L. Sané

J. Kimmich

A. Rüdiger

M. Neuer

T. Müller

K. Havertz

N. Süle

L. Goretzka

S.Gnabry

L. Klostermann

Projected lineup

D. Raum

L. Sané

J. Kimmich

A. Rüdiger

M. Neuer

T. Müller

K. Havertz

N. Süle

L. Goretzka

S.Gnabry

Coach

Hansi Flick

57 years old

L. Klostermann

In two seasons from 2019 to 2021, Flick managed powerhouse Bayern Munich to two league titles, a FIFA Club World Cup and a Champions League crown. It’s no surprise that much of his Germany team now comes from Bayern. Captain Manuel Neuer still occupies his place in goal; Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka patrol the midfield; and Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry pace the wings. With RB Leipzig striker Timo Werner out with a year-ending ankle injury, Chelsea’s Kai Havertz seems set for a big role at his first World Cup. .

The star

Thomas Müller

33 years old, Weilheim in Oberbayern, Germany

Bayern Munich

National team stats

118

44

games

goals

The star

Thomas Müller

33 years old, Weilheim in Oberbayern, Germany

Bayern Munich

National

team stats

118

games

44

goals

The star

Thomas Müller

33 years old, Weilheim in Oberbayern, Germany

Bayern Munich

National team stats

118

44

games

goals

Thomas Müller was a commanding presence during Germany’s previous successful World Cup runs: The Bayern attacker won the Golden Boot with five goals in 2010 and earned the Silver Ball as the tournament’s second-best player in 2014. The country’s most decorated player spent two years out of contention during the rockiest points of the Löw era, but he returned for Euro 2020 and helped the Germans qualify for Qatar. At 33, he may be past his peak years, but Müller has been impressive in Bayern’s past two league-winning campaigns (19 goals and 37 assists) and is sure to remain a significant part of Germany’s plans.

Japan

This year’s World Cup appearance will be Japan’s seventh in a row. While the Samurai Blue has reached the knockout stage on three of those occasions, Qatar is likely to present a trickier test for Asia’s second-highest-ranked team.

Japan

in the World Cup

Starting in 1998, Japan has qualified for every World Cup, reaching the round of 16 three times.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

Suspended from FIFA

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Japan

in the World Cup

Starting in 1998, Japan has qualified for every World Cup, reaching the round of 16 three times.

Did not

participate

Group

stage

Round

of 16

Quarter-

finals

Semi-

finals

Final

Winner

’30

’34

’38

Suspended from FIFA

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Japan

in the World Cup

Starting in 1998, Japan has qualified for every World Cup, reaching the round of 16 three times.

Champion

Final

Semifinals

Quarterfinals

Round of 16

Group stage

Suspended

from FIFA

Did not

participate

’30

’34

’38

’50

’54

’58

’62

’66

’70

’74

’78

’82

’86

’90

’94

’98

’02

’06

’10

’14

’18

Japan’s run at the 2018 World Cup ended in the round of 16, equaling its previous best result in 2002 and 2010. In that knockout game, the Japanese took an early 2-0 lead against Belgium but conceded three goals in succession to lose. The four-game stretch in Russia still had its positives, though: Japan’s opening 2-1 win over Colombia marked the first time an Asian country had beaten a South American country at a World Cup, and it earned a draw against a solid Senegal squad in its subsequent match.

The Japanese secured Asia’s final automatic qualifying berth with a 2-0 win over Australia in March, good enough to finish second in their group and avoid a playoff. They’ll arrive in Qatar on the heels of some confidence-boosting results the past few months: In June, it lost by a narrow 1-0 margin to tournament favorite Brazil and beat the United States, 2-0, in September.

Coach

Hajime

Moriyasu

Projected lineup

Y. Nagatomo

T. Minamino

T. Tomiyasu

H. Morita

S. Gonda

A. Tanaka

A. Ueda

M. Yoshida

W. Endo

J. Ito

H. Sakai

Coach

Hajime Moriyasu

Projected lineup

Y. Nagatomo

T. Minamino

T. Tomiyasu

H. Morita

S. Gonda

A. Tanaka

A. Ueda

M. Yoshida

W. Endo

J. Ito

H. Sakai

Projected lineup

Y. Nagatomo

T. Minamino

T. Tomiyasu

H. Morita

S. Gonda

A. Tanaka

A. Ueda

M. Yoshida

W. Endo

J. Ito

Coach

Hajime Moriyasu

54 years old

H. Sakai

Hajime Moriyasu decided to prioritize youth and potential over experience in naming his squad: Just six players on the 26-man roster also played in the team at the 2018 edition of the World Cup. This year’s roster does have a greater reach across the world’s top leagues, though. Wingers Takumi Minamino (Monaco) and Junya Ito (Reims) are both now in France, while midfielders Wataru Endo (Stuttgart) and Ao Tanaka (Fortuna Düsseldorf) play in Germany’s Bundesliga. Takehiro Tomiyasu, who usually pairs at center back with longtime captain Maya Yoshida (Schalke), plays for Arsenal in the Premier League.

The star

Takumi Minamino

27 years old, Izumisano, Japan

AS Monaco

National

team stats

43

games

17

goals

The star

Takumi Minamino

27 years old, Izumisano, Japan

AS Monaco

National

team stats

43

games

17

goals

The star

Takumi Minamino

27 years old, Izumisano, Japan

AS Monaco

National team stats

43

17

games

goals

After missing out on a place in Japan’s squads at the 2014 and 2018 tournaments, Minamino will make his World Cup debut in Qatar. The 27-year-old moved to England in a high-profile transfer in 2019, becoming the first Japanese player to sign for Liverpool after a successful six-year stint with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria. He was part of the squad that won the Premier League in 2020 but never saw significant playing time. The joint leading scorer for Japan during qualifying with 10 goals, Minamino will hope to rebound from a slow start at Monaco with a strong showing for the national team.

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