World Cup 2022 Preview: Group E

I must admit when I look at the team’s rosters, I often forget that most nations have not officially declared their World Cup teams. Every time I look at Wikipedia with the team information, it lists a lot, but very rarely the official cut. So I’m dealing with teams as I type along. In this group, Spain have not officially their team for Qatar 2022 and Germany only declared theirs on Thursday!.

Without further ado, here is my look at Group E of World Cup 2022:

-Spain (7): La Furia Roja are an interesting team. For so long they’ve been known as “football’s greatest underachievers.” Then starting in the late noughts, they had an amazing run winning Euro 2008, World Cup 200 and Euro 2012. Then they went back to their underachieving ways going out in the group stage at World Cup 2014, the Round of 16 at Euro 2016 and the Round of 16 at World Cup 2018. However Spain has shown progress as they made the semifinals of Euro 2020.

The coaching staff of Spain’s team is completely of Spaniards. Head coach Luis Enrique won Olympic gold in 1992, participated in three World Cups and in Euro 1996. Most of Spain’s players play for La Liga with some playing in England and France. Recent results have they’ve had both wins and draws against Portugal and Czechia. They achieved wins against Sweden and Greece, but they’ve also endured a loss to Switzerland. Qatar is the scene for them to try and achieve another World Cup.

-Costa Rica (31): If there’s one thing to learn about Los Ticos, it’s you don’t count them out of World Cup play. They often come with low expectations, but can surprise, like when they made the Round of 16 in 1990 and the quarterfinals in 2014. As they prepare for their sixth World Cup, they again come with low expectations. At the last CONCACAF Gold Cup, they only made the quarterfinals. On top of it, they’ve never had a win against any of their World Cup opponents.

Most of the coaching staff are Costa Rican, but the head coach is a Colombian – Luis Suarez – who has managed five previous Latin American teams. Most of the team including captain Brian Ruiz plays for the Costa Rican league. In recent play, they’ve won against Nigeria, United States and New Zealand. They’ve had recent draws to South Korea and Mexico, and losses to Panama and Canada. Qatar is another chance for Costa Rica to prove to the world how well they can play.

-Germany (11): It almost seemed like a given. If the Mannschaft doesn’t win the World Cup, they would at least be guaranteed to go as far as the quarterfinals. Their past record seemed to sum it up well. That all changed during Russia 2018 when they appeared to be under the alleged “curse of the defending champion.” Their failure in the group stage was their first World Cup opening round ouster since 1938. It was after Euro 2020 and their exit during the Round of 16 that they knew it was time to fix things.

Germany’s coach since Euro 2020 is Hansi Flick. He was assistant coach to the German team from 2006 to 2014 and was head coach of Bayern Munich from 2019 to 2021. Most of the players of the World Cup squad play for Germany’s Bundesliga with four playing for the Premier League and two playing for Spain’s La Liga. Since Euro 2020, they’ve had mixed results including a win and a draw against Italy, two draws against England, a draw against the Netherlands, and a draw and a loss against Hungary. Qatar 2022 is the stage for Germany to redeem itself.

-Japan (24): Since they made their World Cup debut in 1998, Japan has competed in every World Cup since and Qatar will be #7 for them. One thing they will hope to do is go past the Round of 16, which the Samurai Blue have never done. Their most recent feat is making it to the finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Since their Round of 16 exit in Russia 2018, they’ve returned to having Japanese coaches. The entire coaching staff is Japanese with Hajime Moriyasu as head coach. Interestingly enough, Moriyasu was part of the last Japanese team that failed to qualify for a World Cup (back in 1994). The team mostly play for European leagues with a few players that play for the J-League. In recent play, they’ve achieved wins against the US, Ghana, Australia and their top Asian rival South Korea. They’ve also had draws against Ecuador and Vietnam, and losses to Tunisia and Brazil. It could be here in Qatar that Japan could pull a surprise.

My Prediction: It’s not easy to make a prediction here as all four teams have known strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless I predict the qualifiers to be Spain and Germany. I predict Japan to have the best chances to upset.

And there you go! Another review of another World Cup group. This time it’s Group E. Eagerly awaiting the start. Hard to believe it’s coming this soon! Hard to believe it will be this late in the year!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group B

The funny thing about World Cup draws is the surprises they end up having. The biggest surprise about Group B is how close the countries are to each other! As in 2014, Spain is in Group B. However their Iberian neighbors Portugal is in the same group! Their very first match of the Cup will be another episode in their Iberian rivalry and the first on the World Cup stage! Then there’s Morocco just underneath Spain. And Iran isn’t too many thousands of miles away. Actually I think Group B is the group with the least geographical separation! Here’s my take on the Group B teams:

Portugal Fixed

-Portugal (4): The 21st century has seen the coming of age of The Navigators. Their biggest breakthrough came at the 2016 Euro where they went from drawing all their games to claiming the Cup in the end. This will prove to be an exciting World Cup as many believe this will be Cristiano Ronaldo’s last chance to try to win the World Cup, as he will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 comes around.

Portugal is more than just Cristiano Ronaldo. There’s striker Ricardo Quaresma, midfielder Joao Moutimho and star defensemen Pepe and Bruno Alves. Portugal looks consistent leading up to the Cup. They’ve had a good record since their Euro win. However they’ve had some notable losses like 3-0 to The Netherlands back in March and 3-2 against Sweden last year. They’ve also had some noteworthy draws such as 1-1 to the US and 2-2 to Tunisia. Portugal could just be able to come back to action here in Russia.

Spain Fixed

-Spain (8): Things have been a real struggle for La Roja after the 2014 World Cup. The most notable being ousted in the Round of 16 at Euro 2016. It bit Spain so badly, Vicente del Bosque was sacked as team coach. They now have a new coach: Julen Lopetegui. He comes off of coaching Spain’s youth teams and Portugal’s Porto team. The change of coaching has worked very well. Spain came on top of the World Cup qualifying group. Spain have also not lost a match since Euro 2016 and even had a spectacular 6-1 win against Argentina back in March. However Spain has had some noteworthy draws like a 3-3 draw to Russia and a 1-1 draw to Germany. Much of that is due to Spain’s set of strikers being young and lacking experience.

Leading to Russia 2018, Spain will be led by captain Sergio Ramos; one of four players on the team with more than 100 caps. Spain’s team consists of all but seven players who play for La Liga. Spain also has a lot of strong midfielders in Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, and David Silva. Along with Ramos, Spain has Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba adding to their strong defense. 2018 can be another stellar year for Spain.

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-Morocco (42): Nigeria may be most lauded African team but Morocco deserves some credit. They are the first African team to advance past the Group Stage; all the way back in 1986. This will be Morocco’s fourth World Cup and their first in 20 years. They were lackluster in play over the last two decades or they’d just pull a surprise and soon fade away during that time. That has changed since 2016 when they acquired French coach Herve Renard. Renard had coached Zambia to the 2012 African Nations Cup. Ever since Renard helped Morocco qualify for the World Cup, he’s signed with the team until 2022.

Morocco has had an impressive record these past two years. Despite losses like 2-1 to The Netherlands and 1-0 to Finland, they have scored notable wins like 2-1 against Serbia, 2-0 against the Ivory Coast and 3-1 against South Korea. Not too much is expected of Morocco with Spain and Portugal being favorites, but they could pull off an upset in Russia.

Iran

-Iran (36): This is Iran’s fifth World Cup. No doubt they’re hoping this will be their first where they make it past the group stage. Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz has been kept on as manager of Iran since 2011. He’s the coach that has coached the most games involving the national team. Most of the team’s players play for Iran’s Persian Gulf Pro League and Greece’s Superleague. Iran’s victories in the last while have been mostly to Asian teams. However they have drawn 1-1 against Russia and South Korea sending the message that they are capable of more than what most expect. Russia 2018 could just be their moment.

And there’s my look at the teams of Group B. As for who will advance to the Round of 16, I’m going to go with my best hunches and declare Spain and Portugal. However either Morocco or Iran could pull off a surprise.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

Two ore stadiums added to the mix. Both will host four matches, all in the Group Stage. And both with host a Group Stage match for Group B. So without further ado:

-KALININGRAD: Kaliningrad Stadium

kaliningrad stadium

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 35,212

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, D, E, G

Kaliningrad Stadium is known for its unique location. It’s in the city of Kaliningrad which is part of the tiny Kaliningrad Oblast: a Russian Oblast bordered by Poland and Lithuania and situated over 400 miles west of the Russian mainland! It’s location at the Baltic Sea explains why Kaliningrad Stadium is also nicknamed Arena Baltika.

This new stadium wasn’t cheap. It came at a cost of € 257 million and had lost its original developer when it filed for bankruptcy in 2014. The stadium is located on Oktyabrsky Island and is expected to reduce its capacity to 25,000 after the World Cup. After the World Cup, the Stadium will serve as the host stadium for team FC Baltika Kaliningrad.

-SARANSK: Mordovia Arena

Mordovia

Year Opened: 2018

World Cup Capacity: 44,442

World Cup Groups Hosting: B, C, G, H

Like Kaliningrad Stadium, Mordovia Arena will also be practically fresh for the World Cup. However this World Cup Stadium is more about its design. The design is based on the image of the sun, the main symbol of ancient myths and legends of the Mordovian people. The stadium is situated around the Insar River and is part of a big land development for the city of Saransk. Part of the development includes a new residential neighborhood, a new park, and a space for recreation, public festivities and leisure activities.

The stadium has hotels, fan zones and attractions located within walking distance. After the World Cup, the stadium is expected to reduce its capacity after the World Cup to 28,000 and will serve as the host venue for team FC Mordovia Saransk. The stadium will also be turned into the largest sports, cultural and leisure center in Saransk and Mordovia.

So there you have it. Another Group Stage group summary and two more stadiums in the spotlight. More World Cup reviews coming.

UEFA Euro 2016: Group D Focus

Euro Logos

Wow! Euro 2016 is not even a week away. Fast notes about the ten stadiums staging the Euro. Six were venues of the 1998 World Cup. The other four are new stadiums that opened anywhere from back this January to four years ago. Glad to see this Euro isn’t that big of an expense. Although five of the ‘older’ stadiums did need upgrades for this event. Anyways here’s my look at the Group D teams:

TurkeyTurkey (13): Turkey is a team known for its infrequent successes. It has competed in three Euros and two World Cups. It finished third in the 2002 World Cup–its first World Cup since 1954– and hasn’t qualified since. Turkey didn’t qualify for the 2004 Euro but finished in the semis in 2008 and didn’t qualify for 2012. Turkey’s back now. All but six players play for Turkey’s Super Lig, three play for German teams and captain Arda Turan plays for Barcelona. The team has done very well in play the past year and a half including wins against the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Sweden. Their only loss came to England two weeks ago and the score was 2-1. Turkey is one team that shouldn’t be underestimated.

Croatia ficedCroatia (23): Croatia has a reputation of being world class ‘minnows’ that will surprise you when you least expect it. However Vatreni has struggled to regain their strong reputation they had back in the late 1990’s. In fact the team’s play has been mostly quiet news. However they still should not be underestimated. They may have lacked a standout moment for the team in recent major tournaments but they’ve continued to exhibit consistent play. They may lack a standout superstar but they function excellently as a team unit. Since World Cup 2014, they’ve regained the consistency they’re known for. They’ve had wins against Russia, Israel, Norway and Bulgaria and have even drawn against Italy. The team has only had two losses in that time: against Argentina and Norway. In this group, their toughest opposition will be Spain as they’ve only won against them once in the last 25 years. In that same time, they’ve never lost to Turkey and the Czechs. Euro 2016 is another time for the team to prove themselves once again.

Spain FixedSpain (6): We’ve talked about England trying to recover from its 2014 World Cup embarrassment. England’s not alone. Spain entered the Cup as the reigning holders only to lose their first two Group games which meant their elimination as Group play concluded. Like England, La Roja didn’t drop their coach: Vicente Del Bosque. Their road to redemption did have a struggle for the remainder of 2014 as they lost three of their six 2014 games after the Cup. Spain did have challenges bringing in new players who aren’t as well seasoned as their veterans still on the team. However Spain were very good in qualifying for the Euro and their only loss in 2015 came to the Netherlands. This past week they scored big wins against Bosnia (3-1) and South Korea (6-1). No doubt they will be coming to France with something to prove.

Czech Republic fixedCzech Republic(29): The Czechs are an enigma in football. Since the divorce of Czechoslovakia in 1992, the team has qualified for every Euro even being finalists in 1996 and semifinalists in 2004. However they’ve only qualified for one World Cup: back in 2006 and they were out in Group Stage. Their play since the 2014 World Cup has also been enigmatic. They’ve lost to the United States, Slovakia, Iceland, Turkey, Poland and Scotland. However they’ve also won against Iceland, the Netherlands, Serbia and Russia. France will be another chance for the team to prove themselves.

Prediction: This is a tough one because both teams have a lot of strengths but they also have a lot of very noticeable weak spots. You could call this a ‘group of death.’ I predict Spain to top it with Croatia second and Turkey third.

And there are my thoughts for Group D. Next up my review of Group E.

UPDATE:

Here are my reviews of other groups: