The World Cup Preview: Group E

Group E looks like the group of death for Costa Rica and Japan but there certainly are some flaws in these European giants that the underdogs can take advantage of if they play their cards right. A real group of dark horses are presented to us with Germany and Spain on the outskirts of the bookie’s favourites, but no one would think twice if you decided to back them all the way, yet we could see a real upset on our hands as Japan and Costa Rica look to achieve the unthinkable and go far in this competition.

Germany are one of the competition’s finest. There is hardly a team that have won the tournament more times than they have yet when these giants fall, they fall hard. After a stunning departure from the 2018 edition through a late blistering south Korean attack, Die Mannschaft will be looking to restore faith in their side. With this being Julian Flick’s first tournament at the reigns, expectations will be high, and a repeat of 2014’s fantastic campaign will be expected.

Player to watch: Serge Gnabry

Did you know he had a spell at West Brom? Tony Pullis once said he was not good enough for not just the Baggies but for topflight football itself. And now, the lightning-fast winger has caused headaches for Bundesliga fullbacks for years and has established himself as a key cog in the machine that is Bayern Munich. With his pace and ability to control the right side of the pitch, there is no doubt he will play a major role in Germany’s bid to bring their fifth world cup back to Berlin.

The Spaniards will be looking to improve upon their dismal displays at the last two world cups, losing narrowly to hosts Russia in 2018 last 16 and failing to escape the group stage in 2014. After winning the tournament in 2010, expectations will be high for Luis Enrique’s young side. Like their biggest rivals in this group, Germany, it will be an attempted arc of redemption to bring hope back to the national team’s fans.

The latest Spanish midfield maestro, Pedri has the weight of his country on his shoulders. (Photo by Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Player to watch: Pedri

Pedri will hope to cement himself into Spanish folklore at such a young age. The 19-year-old will be key in creating chances for Spain and in a team that have struggled in the qualifiers to take advantage of the chances they are given; he will need to work extra hard to achieve his dream. He has become one of the faces of Barcelona since Lionel Messi departed and it is clear the board sees him as the Catalan giants’ future. His work in the midfield could make this Spain side a formidable power in this tournament.

Japan are always a fun side to watch. With their heart-breaking round of 16 loss to Belgium in Rostov in 2018 thanks to a 90+4 Nacer Chadli goal, Japan will be looking to go one step further than ever before. It seems to be on a rotation whether the samurai blue will shock the world or be mediocre and while the pattern is looking like they will be crashing out this year, the young talent in the squad will say otherwise.

Player to watch: Takefusa Kubo

The 21-year-old has become a case study for what Eastern Asia can bring to the table in the European game. He spent a chunk of his youth career in Spain with Barcelona before returning to his homeland to play for FC Tokyo professionally. His runs down the wing caught real Madrid’s eye and was brought to the Spanish capital. While he failed to impress there, he is now starting to feel settled at real Sociedad and can whip in chances to Japan’s central players. While he has not hit the heights quite yet, this tournament could be what kicks his career into another gear.

Another side that will want to push beyond their capabilities again is Costa Rica. Their famous route to the quarterfinals in 2014 is something the streets will never forget and affirmed them as giant killers as they dumped Uruguay and England out in the group stage to finish top ahead of Italy. After narrowly losing out on a semi-final place to the Netherlands on penalties, Costa Rica will hope to emulate the thrills of 2014.

Player to watch: Jewison Bennette

The youngest player to feature in Costa Rica’s world cup qualifiers ever, Bennette has the chance to kick off his career in style. A sliver of youth in an aging Costa Rican side, the 18-year-old made ripples when he assisted Joel Campbell in their 1-0 win over New Zealand to secure their spot in Qatar. With a lot of his teammates remembering the days of 2014, he could be a pivotal part of the front line and make 2022 even more memorable for the island nation than 8 years ago.

Prediction:

Statistically, Germany and Spain will expect nothing less than a place in the last 16 yet they cannot be complacent. Japan and Costa Rica will be reminded of the importance to give everything they can to create history for their nations. The two underdogs have nothing to lose, and Spain and Germany have everything to lose so while it is most likely going to be A Germany and Spain qualification with either Japan or Costa Rica being pipped for second spot, we could be in for an upset like no other.

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