World Cup Group E preview

Just eight days until the World Cup kicks off! We’re continuing our preview series with a look at Group E, arguably the “group of death” in this year’s tournament. If you haven’t yet, join our World Cup predictor challenge at Fotmob.

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Spain 🇪🇸 (FIFA Ranking: 7)

How they got here

By ushering in a new generation.

Only Sergio Busquets remains from the core that formed the great Spain teams of the late 2000s and early 2010s. This generation qualified for the 2022 World Cup by winning their UEFA group with a 6-1-1 record. The sole loss came away to Sweden. It makes 12-straight World Cup appearances for La Roja.

Famously, they won it all in 2010. Other trips have been much less successful. Other than in 2010, Spain failed to advance past the group stage three times and never progressed further than the quarterfinals. 

The outlook

The group is a good mix of young and old with a new generation breaking through this cycle. Gavi (18), Pedri (19), Eric García (21), and Ferran Torres (22) should all have a sizable role to play. The experience elsewhere on the roster, particularly Busquets, will help the youngsters navigate their first World Cup.

Like the best Spain teams of the past, this year’s iteration is tactically adept and excellent in possession. Their problem comes in finding that final movement and ball to unlock stubborn low blocks. If Spain can find the key, they will cruise through the group. 

Key players

Koke (Atlético Madrid); Jordi Alba (Barcelona); Álvaro Morata (Atlético Madrid); Rodri (Manchester City)

Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Unai Simón, Jordi Alba, Pau Torres, Eric García, César Azpilicueta, Koke, Rodri, Carlos Soler, Ferran Torres, Pablo Sarabia, Álvaro Morata

Predicted group finish


Look, there are two prohibitive favorites in this group – Germany and Spain. Neither can afford to take Japan lightly. US National Team fans know far too well how dangerous Japan can look.

But Spain, unlike the U.S., have the technical ability to play out of any high press. The betting odds give Spain the fifth-best chance of winning the tournament. Personally, I’m not sure this iteration of Spain advances any further than the Round of 16, but they will advance out of the group.  

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)


Costa Rica 🇨🇷 (FIFA Ranking: 31)

How they got here

With a second-half surge.

After the first seven matches of the Concacaf Octagonal, Costa Rica managed to pick up only six points. It put Los Ticos behind the eight ball. They trailed Panama, their likely competition for fourth place, by a whopping five points.

Questions started to be asked. Was this side far too old and reliant on those well past their prime? The pronouncement of the death of their qualifying campaign proved premature. Costa Rica finished the last seven matches with a 6-1-0 record. They caught Panama and padded their lead. The fourth-place finish placed Los Ticos into a one-match intercontinental playoff with New Zealand, which Costa Rica won 1-0. 

Costa Rica have now qualified for five of the last six World Cups. They’ve made it out of the group twice (1990 and 2014). A few veterans of the famed 2014 team remain on the roster today. While Mexico and the U.S. soak up a lot of the attention and accolades in the region, the Costa Ricans have been remarkably consistent behind the two hegemons. 

The outlook

The qualifying campaign comeback was impressive, but the question remains about the age of the roster. Just how much is left in the tank? Do they have enough for one final swan song? The answer likely comes down to their goalkeeper, Kaylor Navas. He’s world class and capable of keeping Costa Rica alive and in a match. He will need to stand on his head a few times to give his country a fighting chance.

But preventing goals, at best, only earns a draw. Costa Rica will need to win at least one match if they want a reasonable chance to advance. Joel Campbell will be called upon to make the most of what may be limited scoring opportunities. Now with León in Liga MX, Campbell played for nearly a decade across Europe. Kendall Watson, 34, may not play all three matches, but when on the field he is a one-man threat on set pieces that can out body anyone in the world. 

Key players

Kaylor Navas (PSG); Joel Campbell (León); Celso Borges (Alajuelense), Bryan Ruiz (Alajuelense)

Predicted XI (4-4-2)

Kaylor Navas, Bryan Oviedo, Francisco Calvo, Óscar Duarte, Keysher Fuller, Jewison Bennette, Celso Borges, Yeltsin Tejeda, Gerson Torres, Anthony Contreras, Joel Campbell

Predicted group finish

4th. I refuse to believe that Costa Rica departs Qatar with three losses. They will pick up a point along the way. But the matchup against Japan is not ideal. The relentless running and dynamism of Japan are going to give the old legs of Costa Rica fits. 

Odds to win World Cup:


Germany 🇩🇪 (FIFA Ranking: 11)

How they got here

By dominating a group of minnows. 

Look, Germany were always going to qualify. They’ve never failed to qualify for the World Cup. However, the ping-pong balls gift-wrapped a ticket to Qatar for the Germans by delivering a qualifying group of North Macedonia, Romania, Armenia, Iceland, and Liechtenstein – easy stuff for a perennial powerhouse. 

The outlook

Die Mannschaft are always a threat to win the whole tournament. This iteration is no different.

Manager Hansi Flick deploys an aggressive set of tactics that will look to take the game to opponents. His previous stint at the helm of Bayern Munich means he’s intimately familiar with several key components of this roster.

That understanding is most felt on the attacking midfield line. A Bayern trio of Leroy Sané, Thomas Müller, and Serge Gnabry leads the attack. They will be well adept to replicate the patterns of play that led to a fantastic run for the Bavarian side under Flick. 

Key players

Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich); İlkay Gündoğan (Manchester City); Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich)

Predicted XI (4-2-3-1)

Manuel Neuer; David Raum, Antonio Rüdiger, Niklas Süle, Jonas Hofmann; Joshua Kimmich, İlkay Gündoğan; Leroy Sané, Thomas Müller, Serge Gnabry; Kai Havertz

Predicted group finish


Four years ago in Russia was the first time Germany failed to reach the Round of 16. I wouldn’t bet on that becoming a trend. In 11 of their 18 World Cup appearances, Die Mannschaft reached the semifinals. This is the territory they are much more accustomed to. Germany should handle Costa Rica and Japan with relative ease and I like their odds of beating Spain. 

Odds to win World Cup:


Japan 🇯🇵 (FIFA Ranking: 24)

How they got here

By winning in Sydney.

Going into the final match window, Japan held a three-point advantage on Australia with a trip to Sydney on deck. A win for the Socceroos at home would have catapulted Australia ahead on goal differential. Japan had to pick up a tough, road result. They delivered an empathic victory with goals in the 89th and 94th minutes as Australia desperately chased a win.

Japan have now qualified for seven straight World Cups. The results have been cyclical for the Japanese. They reach the Round of 16 and then follow it up by failing to make it out of the group stage. If the cycle holds, Japan will fail to reach the knockout rounds in 2022. 

The outlook

Japan are a transition team that thrives on moving the ball quickly up the field. To fuel the fast break, the Samurai Blue love to press opponents high and turn those into counterattacking opportunities. Takumi Minamino is the biggest name on the team sheet for most American viewers, thanks to his time at Liverpool. Together with his wing partner Junya Ito, the duo can eat up open grass in a hurry and harass dallying backlines. 

In this group, Japan will need to sit deeper and absorb the pressure created by Spain and Germany. Against Spain in particular, the Samurai Blue could pose a lot of issues. As the Spaniards bring up their fullbacks high in possession, it creates acres of space to play in Minamino and Ito. If Japan get out of the group, this is the playbook: frustrate Spain and steal a goal or two with blistering counterattacks. 

Key players

Takumi Minamino (Monaco); Maya Yoshida (Schalke 04); Wataru Endo (VfB Stuttgart)

Predicted XI (4-1-4-1)

Shūichi Gonda; Yuto Nagatomo, Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Hiroki Sakai; Wataru Endo; Hidemasa Morita, Ao Tanaka, Junya Ito, Takumi Minamino; Takuma Asano

Predicted group finish


Japan getting out of the group should never surprise anyone. To do so, they will most likely need to find a way through Spain.

The one thing in Spain’s favor has been the transition to younger and more agile central defenders. They should be able to keep up in foot races and prevent Japan’s counterattacks from blowing up the group. 

Odds to win World Cup:


Author: Chris IveyChris is a senior writer covering Nashville SC. His writings focus on the team at large and often navigate the complexity of roster building around the myriad of MLS rules. Outside of Broadway Sports Media, Chris resides in Knoxville and is a licensed attorney. Beyond NSC, he is always willing to discuss Tennessee football and basketball, Coventry City, and USMNT. Follow Chris on Twitter

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