If Germany are to avoid consecutive World Cup group stage ignominies, they will need to get a positive result against a Spain side who look like the most dangerous team in the tournament after the opening round.
The tournament was a historic low for the four-time World Cup winners, who finished bottom of the group at Russia 2018 as defending champions Germany. For the first time in 80 years, Germany’s national team failed to qualify for the knockout stages of the tournament.
Now that Joachim Löw has stepped down after 15 years in charge, a repeat of that performance in Russia was unthinkable with coach Hansi Flick at the helm.
But after a 2-1 loss to Japan in the opening game, it’s a different prospect again.
Former national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has accused Germany’s players of thinking they were “riding” after Ilkay Gundogan’s first-half penalty against Japan.
Germany’s failure to capitalize on their dominance kept Japan in the game and perhaps four-time champion Flick was unable to successfully counter Hajime Moriasu’s tactical change and eventually return to the team.
That result means the match against Spain is do-or-die for Germany, as defeat would ensure a return to the top flight from Qatar. Especially after Spain’s 7-0 win over Costa Rica in the opening match, it is an undesirable situation for Flick and his team.
Of course, whether the Spaniards’ victory was a statement of Luis Enrique’s men being unstoppable or the opposition so formidable, Costa Rica rivaled hosts Qatar for the title of worst team ever at the World Cup.
Germany will certainly provide a more accurate indicator of this Spanish team’s chances in Qatar, but the win has raised hopes that this team is a real contender.
World Cup team camps have traditionally been somewhat tight, private affairs, but Spain head coach Luis Enrique is taking an unusual approach to spending time behind closed doors.
The 52-year-old recently posted a shirtless photo of himself on Instagram, taking part in a regular Q&A with fans live on Twitch, and has vowed to keep it up as long as he’s in Spain. The competition.
Enrique has revealed that he is happy for players to have sex during the World Cup – in the past, other national team coaches have banned the squad from engaging in intimate activities.
The mood in the Spain camp is good and a win over Germany would guarantee their passage to the round of 16.
In Group E’s other game, Japan beat Costa Rica.
The Samurai Blue team, who beat Germany for the first time in their history to achieve their greatest ever World Cup title, will need a positive result heading into their final group game against Spain.
Costa Rica, on the other hand, will proudly play as a point against Japan after the Central Americans suffered a seven-goal thrashing against Spain.
Los Ticos A highlight of Brazil 2014’s historic quarter-final run, they have acquitted themselves well on the World Cup stage and manager Luis Fernando Suarez will be keen to ensure the opening day result is a bad day at the office.
It’s fair to say that Canada head coach John Herdman’s comments following his team’s 1-0 loss to Belgium did not go down well in Croatia.
“They are here,” the Englishman said when asked what his message was to his players at full-time.
“And we’re going to Croatia,” he added.
In response to that horrifying comment, the Croatian newspaper 24 Sata put a picture of a naked shepherd on its front page, with nothing but a Canadian maple leaf to protect his modesty.
Canada took the lead early in the opening game against Belgium, but star Alphonso Davies’ effort was saved by Thibaut Courtois.
Belgium then counter-attacked with a clinical finish from Michy Batshuayi and Canada had no response despite the pressure.
Croatia, runners-up four years ago, stuttered to a goalless draw in their opener against Morocco and will be hoping for a much-improved performance against the Canadians.
Now, 37-year-old captain Luka Modric may be playing in his final World Cup and Croatian Taliesin has seen a quick start against the North Africans, coming on late and somehow avoiding a yellow card.
Much of what has made this team such a threat over the years will go through Modric and the Real Madrid man will need to do his best to emulate the Croatia they produced in Russia four years ago.
Belgium will be looking for a big improvement from their opener against Canada as the country’s “golden generation” stars begin their last realistic attempt to make a deep run at a major tournament.
Kevin De Bruyne is arguably Belgium’s best player in the world on average, but like the rest of his teammates, the Manchester City star was below par against Canada.
But Morocco look set to provide another tough challenge for Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side.
The team looked compact and organized against Croatia and it may feel like a missed opportunity to pick up all three points after creating two stunning chances.
The Atlas Lions have only reached the group stages of the World Cup once in their history, and this team can be confident of a positive result against Belgium and take a step towards being like the 1986 team.
Japan vs. Costa Rica: ET 5 a.m
Belgium vs. Mexico: ET 8 a.m
Croatia vs. Canada: ET 11 a.m
Spain vs Germany: 2pm in Ethiopia
USA: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Brazil: Sport TV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC