If Germany are to avoid the stigma of consecutive World Cup exits, they will need a positive result after their opening round against Spain, who look to be the most dangerous side in the tournament.
At Russia 2018, Germany finished bottom of their group as defending champions, an all-time low for the four-time World Cup winners. It was the first time in 80 years that the German national team failed to advance to the knockout stages of the tournament.
Now, with manager Hansi Flick at the helm after Joachim Low finally stepped down after 15 years in charge, it would certainly be unthinkable to repeat that performance in Russia.
But after a crushing 2-1 defeat to Japan in the opening game, it was again a distinct possibility.
Former national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has accused Germany’s players of thinking they “will continue to cruise” after leading Japan through Ilkay Gundogan’s first-half penalty.
Germany failed to capitalize on their dominance to keep Japan in the game, and perhaps most worryingly for the four-time champions was Flick’s inability to successfully deal with the tactical changes that eventually led to a comeback.
The result means the game against Spain is a matter of life and death for Germany, as defeat would confirm an early homecoming from Qatar. It must have been an unwelcome situation for Flick and his players, especially after Spain beat Costa Rica 7-0 in their opening match.
Of course, whether the Spaniard’s declared victory was more due to Luis Enrique’s side being unstoppable, or the opponents so bad, it remains to be seen how Costa Rica battle hosts Qatar for the World Cup’s worst team tag so far.
Germany would certainly provide a more accurate gauge of the Spanish side’s chances in Qatar, but the win understandably fueled serious optimism that this team is a real contender.
Traditionally, training camps for World Cup teams have been somewhat strict and personal, but Spain coach Luis Enrique has been taking unconventional methods to pass the time behind closed doors.
The 52-year-old, who recently posted a photo on Instagram of himself shirtless and looking in great shape, has been holding regular Q&As with fans via the live-streaming service Twitch and has promised that as long as Spain is around, he will Keep it up. Contest.
Enrique even revealed that he was glad his players had sex during the World Cup – after other national team coaches had notoriously banned teams from engaging in intimate activities.
The atmosphere in the Spanish camp is sure to be good, with a win over Germany ensuring progress to the last 16 with one game remaining.
In another match in Group E, Japan knows a win over Costa Rica will secure its place in the knockout stages.
Samurai Blue produced the greatest ever World Cup upset by beating Germany for the first time in its history and will be hoping to avoid going into Spain’s final group game in need of a positive result.
Costa Rica, meanwhile, will fight for pride against Japan after Central America’s humiliating seven-goal defeat to Spain.
Lostikos Their so-so performance on the World Cup stage, with the high point coming in Brazil’s historic quarter-finals in 2014, will see coach Luis Fernando Suarez keen to prove that the opening-day result was just a bad day at the office.
It’s fair to say that Canadian coach John Herdman’s comments after his side’s 1-0 loss to Belgium didn’t go over well in Croatia.
Asked what message to his players, the Englishman said he told them “they belong here”.
“We’re going to Croatia,” he added.
In response to the upbeat rhetoric, Croatian newspaper 24 Sata published on its front page a mock image of a naked shepherd with nothing but a Canadian maple leaf to protect his modesty.
Canada beat a leggy-looking Belgium for most of the opening game and had a glorious chance to take an early lead from the penalty spot, but star Alfonso Davies’ shot was thwarted Beau Courtois saves.
Belgium then found their way on the counter-attack thanks to a calm strike from Michy Batshuayi, while Canada failed to respond despite the constant pressure.
Croatia, runners-up four years ago, drew a goalless draw with Morocco in their opening match and will look to improve considerably against the Canadiens.
Captain Luka Modric, 37, is likely to play in his final World Cup, while the Croatian talisman struggled against North Africa, arriving late and somehow avoiding a yellow card amid numerous challenges .
Much of what has made this team such a threat over the years has come from Modric, and the Real Madrid man needs to be at his absolute best for Croatia to emulate what they did in Russia four years ago.
Belgium, too, will be hoping to make a big jump in their first-round win over Canada, as the country’s “golden generation” stars begin their last realistic chance to make big strides in a big game.
Belgium midfielder Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the best player in the world, but like the rest of his team-mates, the Manchester City star’s performance against Canada fell well below his usual standards.
However, Morocco look likely to present another stern test for Roberto Martinez’s Belgium side.
The team looked compact and organized against Croatia and it might even feel like chances to take all three points were missed after creating a few brilliant chances.
The Atlas Lions have only advanced to the World Cup group stage once in their history and the team may well be confident of a positive result against Belgium and a move towards emulating their 1986 squad Another step.
Japan vs. Costa Rica: 5 a.m. ET
Belgium vs. Mexico: 8 a.m. ET
Croatia vs. Canada: 11 a.m. ET
Spain vs. Germany: 2 p.m. ET
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC