The two accomplished European powers make this a top-heavy group—although Japan and Costa Rica won’t be pushovers in the least.
Between them, Spain and Germany have won two European championships and two World Cups since 2008. And since ’02, only two major tournaments in which both countries competed did not feature at least one of them in the semifinals.
One of those tournaments was the 2018 World Cup, in which both sides wildly underperformed. Germany and forward Thomas Müller, who leads all active players with 10 World Cup goals, crashed out of the group stage, while Spain fell to host Russia in the round of 16. Each now has a new manager: Former Bayern Munich boss Hansi Flick took over for Germany, while Luis Enrique, formerly of Barcelona, is now in charge of Spain. Flick has lost only once in 15 matches since taking over in August 2021, while Enrique took La Roja to the Euro 2020 semifinals, where they lost to eventual champion Italy.
As top-heavy as the group seems, Japan, which is coming off a dominant 2–0 win against the U.S. in a September friendly, is sure to grab some attention. And after finishing fourth in Concacaf qualifying, Costa Rica booked a ticket to its third straight World Cup by defeating New Zealand in the intercontinental playoff. Los Ticos arrive having lost only one match in 11 games in 2022.
Japan has made the knockout stage in three of the last five World Cups and conceded just four goals in 10 final-round qualifiers leading to Qatar. The Samurai Blue’s poise and discipline could challenge a slow starter like Spain, which has won only five of 12 group-stage matches at its last four major tournaments.
The last time Costa Rica was grouped with two European powerhouses, Los Ticos—led by goalkeeper Keylor Navas—beat Italy and drew England in 2014 to win their group. A similar result in their opener against Spain would make things interesting in a hurry.
GAME OF THE GROUP
Spain vs. Germany, Nov. 27
Spain enters the most anticipated group-stage game of the Cup with momentum. La Roja, which knocked Germany out in the semis in 2010, pummeled their rivals 6–0 in ’20.
PROJECTED GROUP FINISH
Spain, Germany, Japan, Costa Rica
ODDS (via SI Sportsbook)
To win the group (-110) | To win the World Cup (+800)
To win the group (+100) | To win the World Cup (+1000)
To win the group (+1400) | To win the World Cup (+30000)
To win the group (+5000) | To win the World Cup (+50000)