Two European heavyweights who kicked off their 2022 World Cup campaigns in contrasting fashion lock horns at the Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, as high-flying Spain take on an out-of-sorts Germany outfit.
While La Roja secured their biggest-ever World Cup win last time out, Die Mannschaft were condemned to one of their most embarrassing defeats on the world’s biggest stage and are now at risk of elimination from Group E.
For the first time since 2006, Spain managed to win their opening game at the World Cup, and in emphatic style, after thrashing Costa Rica 7-0 at the Al Thumama Stadium on Wednesday.
Strikes from Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres – the former netting Spain’s 100th World Cup goal – helped La Roja race into a three-goal lead within the first 31 minutes.
Torres then added his second shortly after half time before Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata also got in on the act to ensure Luis Enrique’s men made the perfect start to their Group E campaign.
There was an evident gulf in class between the two nations, with Spain boasting 81.9% possession – the most by any team since Opta first recorded statistics for the World Cup back in 1966 – while a hapless Costa Rica outfit failed to register a single shot in the entire match.
Many may question whether Spain can replicate such a dominant performance in their next match against Germany, but they can be confident of success ahead of Sunday’s encounter after securing a memorable 6-0 victory against Die Mannschaft in the UEFA Nations League the last time they met in November 2020.
Since they were crowned world champions in 2010, Spain have endured a difficult period on the biggest international stage, with elimination at the group stage in 2014 followed by a last-16 exit on penalties against 2018 hosts Russia.
However, a statement victory over Germany could thrust La Roja back into the conversation of contenders to go all the way in this year’s tournament in Qatar and would all but secure their place in the knockout rounds before their final group clash against Japan.
Four years on from a humiliating group-stage exit at the World Cup in Russia, Germany are at risk of another disappointing departure at the first hurdle following their shock 2-1 defeat against Japan on Wednesday.
There were early signs of Japan’s attacking threat in the first half, but it was Germany who found themselves in front at the break, courtesy of an Ilkay Gundogan penalty.
However, two Bundesliga forwards turned the game on its head in dramatic fashion for the Samurai Blue, with Freiburg’s Ritsu Doan restoring parity in the 75th minute before VfL Bochum’s Takuma Asano snatched all three points seven minutes from time.
Germany, ranked 10th in the world by FIFA, have now won just two of their last nine internationals across all competitions and head coach Hansi Flick has admitted that his side “are under pressure” heading into Sunday’s pivotal contest with Spain.
Hopes of winning a record-equalling fifth world title already seem a tall order for Die Mannschaft and they will now seek to avoid losing successive group-stage games at the same World Cup tournament for the first time.
Returning to winning ways could prove challenging, though, as they have won only one of their last seven meetings with Spain across a 19-year period – a 1-0 friendly win in November 2014 – and they have not won a competitive clash against La Roja since a 2-0 success at Euro 1988.
Should Japan avoid defeat against Costa Rica in the earlier kickoff on Sunday, Germany must beat Spain if they wish to avoid back-to-back group-stage eliminations at the World Cup. Sport Mole