FIFA World Cup

World Cup 2022: The Hungriest Group

Kokoy Severino
World Cup 2022: The Hungriest Group

CONTENDERS. Spain's Jordi Alba and Eric Garcia in action during their training in Qatar.

Albert Gea/REUTERS

The Europeans may be heavily favored, but that doesn’t mean the road will be easy for Germany and Spain as Japan and Costa Rica bring tremendous quality on the pitch

This is Part 5 of Rappler’s World Cup 2022 series.

Group E – Costa Rica, Germany, Japan, Spain 

Every month, FIFA releases its official world rankings of men’s and women’s national teams. Ranks are based on a complex algorithm that calculates match results over the previous eight years, assigning points to a team’s wins depending on such variables as home or away, goals for and against, match context and significance, ranks of opponents, etc. 

The monthly ranking is interesting to fans all over the world. But when it comes down to the World Cup, these ranks are consequential only as it impacts the draw. Once the groups are drawn, these numbers and points become irrelevant, because at this level, any team is capable of beating any other team. 

When the opening whistle blows, the rankings are out the window, and it now comes down to preparation, performance, execution, and many players will say a little luck.

Group E is the only group in Qatar whose member countries have all won their respective continental championships at least three times each. They have all repeatedly tasted what it is like and what it takes to get to the top of a major tournament. 

But it’s been a while for each of these countries. Japan has raised the Asian Cup four times, the most recent being in 2011. Germany and Spain each won the European championship thrice, their most recent in 1996 and 2012 respectively. 

Spain’s 2012 triumph was the second of a back-to-back, the only time in continental history that was achieved. Costa Rica won the championship of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football three times during the era when the region’s premiere competition rotated hosts, before the CONCACAF Gold Cup was inaugurated in 1991. 

Gold Cup hosting has been monopolized by the United States since its inception. They and Mexico have since perpetually alternated as champions, except for once when Canada won it in 2000.

Some people may feel it’s counter-intuitive to believe that Costa Rica and Japan have any chance against the two superpowers with whom they are grouped. 

The Europeans may be heavily favored, but that doesn’t mean the road will be easy for either of them. The Ticos and the Blue Samurais bring tremendous quality on the pitch which the Europeans mustn’t take for granted. The two outliers will force the Bavarians and Iberians to be at the top of their game if they want to avoid an upset. 

Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas knows these European superstars well. He has been mixing it up with the best of them in his five seasons with Real Madrid and the last three with Paris Saint-Germain. 

Considered one of the best keepers in the world, Navas has won three UEFA Champions League titles, four Club World Cups, and the domestic league of both Spain and France. 

Along with quality seasons in the Premiere League with Fulham and Gent in the Belgian top flight, team captain Bryan Ruiz has won the Dutch league championship with Twente and the domestic cups in both Holland and Portugal. 

Star striker Joel Campbell has also journeyed around Europe, winning the Greek Super League while on loan to Olympiacos. 

The perennial contenders for and eight-time holders of the Copa Centroamericana are no pushovers. 

The Germans should also know the Samurais very well. 

Outside of the German squad, Japan has the largest contingent of Bundesliga players in the tournament, not surprising given the German history of  pioneering the recruitment of Asian players into European clubs starting in the 1970s. 

The number of Asian footballers now thriving in the Bundesliga has been growing  exponentially in the 21st century, and Japan have been one of the biggest contributors in this growth. 

Among the current generation, midfielder Ritsu Dōan has made 22 appearances this season for SC Freiburg, currently second in the table just behind Bayern Munich. 

Attacking midfielder Daichi Kamada captured the Europa League trophy last year in his fourth season with Eintracht Frankfurt. 

Japan is captained by Maya Oshida who has played 17 matches with Schalke 04 in his first year in the German top division. 

With Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu and leading Samurai scorer Takumi Minamino with Monaco, this Asian representative have the quality to take one of the top spots of the group if the European sector do not take heed.

The Germans and the Spanish provide the world with some of the most intelligent and sophisticated coaching out there. So I’m quite sure Hansi Flick and Luis Enrique won’t be taking Costa Rica or Japan lightly. 

By far Group E’s most distinguishing feature is that it is the only group which has drawn two former World Cup champions together. 

Collectively, out of all eight groups in Qatar, Group E is tied for the most World Cup championships won, four by Germany and one by Spain, equal with Brazil’s five in Group G. 

The headlining bout of the first round is clearly on the night of November 27 (November 28, 3 am Manila time) when these two civilizations collide in what will surely go down as one of the greatest group-stage matches in World Cup history. 

If you must know the numbers, Germany is currently ranked No. 11 in the world and Spain is at No. 7. This is the ultimate battle for control of the ball, which is the strategic hallmark of both nations, but with distinctively contrasting styles, each reflecting their respective linguistic discourse patterns. 

The German style is more direct, a lot of straight lines articulated with incisive precision. The Spaniards are spiral, circular, preferring a more flowery buildup, with shorter and quicker phrases, like discourse in a romance language. 

When these two colossal rivals enter the park, every single player on both rosters are known throughout the world. This matchup is so superstar-studded on both sides, it’s like a European all-star game of massive proportions. 

Names like Sergio Busquets, Pablo Sarabia, Jordi Alba, Dani Carvajal, Rodri, Gavi, Koke on one side of the line; and opposing them are names like Manuel Neuer, Joshua Kimmich, Kai Havertz, Mario Götze, Leroy Sané, Leon Goretzka, and to my pleasant surprise Thomas Müller. 

If you followed my Facebook posts in 2018, you will know that I had predicted Germany retaining the trophy in Russia, largely because of the offensive firepower lead by Müller who tore up the Amazon four years prior with five goals. 

You will also know that I ate my words, and Germany fell victim to the World Cup champions’ curse, fading at the group stage with my man Müller finishing with zilch goals, null, nichts. 

Müller is back in 2022. Now 33 years old, in his 15th season with Bayern Munich for whom he has netted 230 times on his way to 11 Bundesliga titles, two Champions League trophies, two Club World Cups, and one World Cup championship, 

I suspect Müller is hungrier than ever. This is his fourth time around. He dominated the rainforest in 2014, and now fully intends to shred the desert in 2022. 

Group E standings prediction
  1. Germany (wins the tiebreaker by goal differential)
  2. Spain
  3. Japan
  4. Costa Rica

(Next: Part 6 – The Group So Close Yet So Far)

– Rappler.com

Kokoy Severino is a career educator and nationally certified youth soccer coach in the United States who now  lives in his home country of the Philippines. For over 23 years, he implemented the beautiful game as a gang-intervention program in high-poverty urban school districts in the Greater Houston area of Texas. He has also worked with economically-disadvantaged communities in the Philippines, using football to mentor youths out of poverty. He is on the coaching staff of the Football for Peace movement, the Elmer Lacknet Bedia Football Academy, and a core member of Initiatives and Hearts for Indigenous People, a collective of volunteer soccer coaches who work with youths in poverty, particularly among the marginalized ethnic minorities of the Philippines. 

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