Many will need clarification on Spain’s position as slight favourites to win Group E, given the depth of quality in the German camp. It’s a mouthwatering European clash that should give a handy indication of how far either side can go in the tournament.
Nevertheless, proceeding with a thought process that excludes Japan from Group E progression is a dangerous path indeed. Well-drilled, capable, and able to smother opponents out of possession – it’s a recipe that should have Group E opponents nervous.
It took a World Cup play-off fixture to secure Costa Rica’s status in their sixth World Cup. The 90-minute period against New Zealand saw the CONCACAF nation triumph via a 3rd-minute Joel Campbell goal. That would be the last the net rustled as New Zealand commanded the most possession and attempts at goal as they chased the lead.
Overlooking goal difference, Los Ticos finished with exactly the same record as the USA, who finished in the third and final automatic qualifying spot. The 7W/4D/3L mirrored the return of the Americans, who progressed with a far superior goal difference.
Fifth-placed Panama (17) scored more goals than Costa Rica, with Jamaica (12) only one goal shy of the Costa Rican’s 13-goal tally in 14 matches. That inability to find the net at multiple stages in games will likely inflict misery in Qatar.
The bookmakers agree. Costa Rica are the rank outsiders to win the World Cup out of all 32 participants. Saudi Arabia provides Costa Rica with company at that end of the spectrum, with some bookmakers pricing the middle-eastern nation worse off than Costa Rica.
Nevertheless, they’re never going to win it, but the 15/1 around their neck suggests they likely won’t progress from the group.
The shots per90 figures of a handful of forward-thinking Germans in Hansi Flick’s national team show Germany’s dominance during the qualification stages. Serge Gnabry (4.23 per90) and Timo Werner (4.21) lead the way, whilst Ilkay Gundogan (3.24) and Leroy Sané (3.20) aren’t too far off, as Germany became the first nation, other than Qatar, to book their place at the tournament.
Only the Netherlands’ 234 shots in qualifying betters Germany’s 224, a byproduct of the Germans pinning opponents in their halves and dictating play in the final third. At an average of 22.40 shots per90, it’s no wonder the Germans were in the conversation for the most goals scored in European qualification.
England (39) takes the mantle for most scored, though Germany’s 36 offered a lethal enough end to a ten-game stretch that saw nine wins from ten. The only blip on an otherwise perfect campaign? North Macedonia’s 1-2 win on home soil in Duisburg.
After a Nations League campaign that saw Germany win just once from six outings, performing similarly to England and France in the same competition, attentions now switch to a competition they know only too well. Germany have overseen four successful World Cup jaunts. Only Italy can boast the same number of triumphs, ensuring the two European nations are best in class on their continent.
Making it number five in Qatar would bring Germany level on victories with Brazil, a nation out on its own in terms of World Cup success. However, the Spanish pose an interesting task to Germany in Group E, proposing a match-up that previously ended in a 6-0 Spanish rout. Of the five meetings dating back to 1994, Germany are yet to beat Spain in a competitive match, with La Roja winning three.
The Japanese have moulded their take on international football to how they see fit. A collectiveness over individual skill. Cohesiveness as a pack over star egos and standout playing staff.
It’s an approach that streams out of every pore as they seek to press and make life difficult for opposing teams. They’ll prove to be a thorn in the side of Spain and Germany, that’s for sure, whilst boasting enough to get the better of Costa Rica.
In Asia’s World Cup qualification, Takumi Minamino led the Japanese in terms of goals scored. Ten strikes befel rounds 2 and 3, making his goal tally the most of any other participating player in Asia on the route to World Cup 2022.
In Round 2, in a group where they should be prevailing effortlessly, The Blue Samurai scored 48 goals in eight games. That’s a 5.75 goals scored per90 strike rate – bonkers. In Round 3, after easing through the early stages of Asian qualification, which is often a doddle, Japan went to work. Two losses in the first three games existed as a wake-up call before winning the next six fixtures on the spin to guarantee qualification for the seventh consecutive World Cup instalment.
Japan’s 4.0 xGA in Round 3 was the fewest in their group, with Saudi Arabia’s 7.9xGA acting as their closest competitor. At the other end, the 16.7xG total beat the Saudis and Australia’s return as they clinched the second spot in the group, one point behind Saudi Arabia.
Suppose Japan can outmuscle Spain and Germany, which they will believe is plausible back home regardless of the stature of the Europeans. In that case, the Blue Samurai will reach the knockout stages for consecutive World Cup campaigns, a first for Japan.
Spain went about business as usual in the run-up to confirming their presence in Qatar. As the Spanish would expect, an average possession figure of 76% presented death by control for six of their eight qualifying matches.
The 2-1 defeat in Sweden would be the only time La Roja tasted defeat, perhaps a sign of finding things difficult in a less-than-welcoming country against a competent opponent.
In FIFA World Cup Qualification, the goals were shared by Spain. There wasn’t a number nine finishing gilt-edged chances in and around the box like England has with Harry Kane, or Poland possesses in Robert Lewandowski. Instead, Ferran Torres led proceedings with four strikes in eight. The Barcelona forward was backed up by Carlos Soler, Dani Olmo, Alvaro Morata, and Pablo Sarabia, scoring two.
The Qatari World Cup is Spain’s twelfth in a row – their longest-ever consecutive stretch. But, interestingly, you may not know that the Spanish have only reached the semi-final stage once in their last 13 displays in the tournament.
If the Spaniards are to salsa through the knockout stages in Qatar, they’ll need to beat the likes of Brazil and Portugal to get to the final four. The bookmakers have Spain as slight favourites to tussle Group E away from Germany, which may surprise a few.
Firstly, this group isn’t one where you’d be 100% certain in who finishes where. It’s clear in the bookies mind that Spain and Germany are battling it out for the first two positions. It’d be harsh to write Japan off but they’re up against it.
An interesting bet would be Germany and Spain to advance since they’re the two heavyweights. And Costa Rica to concede five or more goals. They’re up against it in each match, and their opponents are odds-on favourites in each group match.
They’re going to struggle against two European giants and Japan who breezed through qualifying and reached the knockout stages in 2018.
Group E – Germany and Spain qualify & Costa Rica concede 5 or more goals
How and where to watch each match:
GER vs JAP – 23rd November – 13:00 (ITV)
SPA vs COS – 23rd November – 16:00 (ITV)
JAP vs COS – 27th November – 10:00 (ITV)
SPA vs GER – 27th November – 19:00 (BBC One)
JAP vs SPA – 1st December – 19:00 (ITV)
COS vs GER – 1st December – 19:00 (ITV)