Germany 1-2 Japan
Jamie Jackson had the abundant pleasure of being at the Khalifa International Stadium today. Here’s his report.
Luis Fernandez Suarez is about to coach his third team at a World Cup: Ecuador 2006, Honduras 2014 and now Costa Rica.
Swot up, there’ll be a spot test before the game
The first game in the group of death was a cracker: Japan came from behind to win 2-1, and Germany are off Argentina in the last-chance saloon. Already. The great Scott Murray was watching.
Rodri starts at centre-back for Spain, with Marco Asensio as a false nine.
Costa Rica’s team includes the exciting teenager Jewison Bennette as well as a few more familiar faces: Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell and Celso Borges.
Spain (4-1-2-3) Simon; Azpilicueta, Rodri, Laporte, Albi; Busquets; Gavi, Pedri; Torres, Asensio, Olmo.
Substitutes: Balde, Carvajal, Fati, Eric Garcia, Guillamon, Koke, Llorente, Morata, Pino, Raya, Sanchez, Sarabia, Soler, Torres, Williams.
Costa Rica (possible 5-4-1) Navas; Martinez, Fuller, Duarte, Calvo, Oviedo; Campbell, Borges, Tejeda, Bennette; Contreras.
Substitutes: Alvarado, Chacon, Hernandez, Lopez, Matarrita, Ruiz, Salas, Sequeira, Torres, Vargas, Venegas, Waston, Wilson, Zamora.
Referee Mohammed Abdulla (UAE)
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Manchester City’s Rodri, who starts in defence today, also spoke to Our Sid
Sid Lowe’s interviews are consistently terrific. Here he chats with Unai Simon, Spain’s highwire goalkeeper.
For most teams, the opening game of a World Cup is frequently a cagey, forgettable affair. Just ask Denmark, Tunisia, Morocco, Croatia, Mexico and Poland. The Spanish national team do things differently; of course they do. In the modern era they have started their World Cup campaign with all kinds of memorable games: belters (Nigeria 98, Portugal 18), stunning defeats (Nigeria 98, Switzerland 10, Netherlands 14), spectacular false dawns (Ukraine 06), late twists (South Korea 94, Nigeria 98 yetabloodygain) controversial defeats (Brazil 86) – and, ok, a couple of cagey, forgettable affairs (Honduras 82, Uruguay 90, and yes Ruben Sosa’s penalty does still occasionally pop up on air traffic control maps).
What will it be today? It’s tempting to expect a comfortable win, like against Slovenia in 2002, although we’ve made that mistake before. It’s probably safer to dwell on Spain’s style than their substance. They’re a unique team, fearless tightrope walkers who keep the ball better than anyone in the world. But they also – drink! – lack a reliable goalscorer.
Alvaro Morata’s record is better than you might think, 27 in 57 games (which includes 15 appearances as substitute) – but, genuinely brilliant though he can be, I doubt even he would describe himself as ‘reliable’. And there’s a fair chance he won’t start today anyway.
Morata scored the late goal against Sweden that clinched Spain’s place in Qatar. It was reasonably fraught – they had to draw that last game in Seville, mainly because of a slow start in the group – but they are legitimately one of the favourites to win the competition. Since you asked, they’re my tip, and I have gambled responsibly by placing £0.00 on them. They were arguably the best team at Euro 2020, where they lost to Italy on penalties in the semi-finals, and anyone who beats them will have to do a lot of work without the ball.
Costa Rica recovered from an even worse start to qualify via a playoff against New Zealand. Since taking over last year, their charismatic Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suarez has used – and you’ll like this – 77 players, including 22 debutants. But he has developed a team with an interesting age profile, from 35-year-old Keylor Navas to the 18-year-old Jewison Bennette, who are strong defensively and fancy their chances even in such a tough group.
And why not. The last time Costa Rica were in a group of death, with Italy, Uruguay and England in 2014, they won the bloody thing and were a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the semi-finals.
Kick off 4pm GMT, 5pm in Madrid, 8am in San Jose, 7pm in Doha.