One of the pre-World Cup favorites Argentina lost to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday. A few more contenders debut as big favorites on Wednesday. Will we have another big surprise?
Two world champion nations, Germany and Spain, start their world championships on Wednesday. Both are heavily favored in Group E’s opening games. Elsewhere in Group F, Canada meet group favorites Belgium and Morocco meet Croatia, a finalist at the last World Cup.
Morocco vs. Croatia
kick-off time: 5am ET/10am GMT
Venue: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Luke Modric is 37. Ivan Perisic is 33. Dejan Lovren is 33. Ivan Rakitic has retired from international play. Croatia had a talented side that made it to the final of the 2018 World Cup, but many of the main characters of this team are past their prime. Modric is still a world-class player but can he lead Croatia to another run? Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic and Inter Milan midfielder Marcelo Brozovic will likely have important roles to play if Croatia are to repeat their success from last World Cup.
Morocco do not have the same World Cup success as Croatia, although they won a group with England, Poland and Portugal in 1986 en route to the country’s best result. This squad has World Cup experience from 2018, including a draw against Spain where Morocco led in second-half added time.
Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech is the biggest name in the team, but PSG’s Achraf Hakimi and Bayern Munich’s Noussair Mazraoui are also top players. Modric and company are likely to dominate midfield, but Ziyech and Hakimi can be deadly on the break.
Germany vs Japan
kick-off time: 8am ET/1pm GMT
Venue: Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Germany had a remarkable run from 2002 to 2016, when the team reached seven semi-finals from eight major tournaments with three finals, including winning the 2014 World Cup. That’s why the two major tournaments since then have been so shocking. Germany was eliminated in the group stage at the last World Cup and eliminated in the round of 16 at the last European Championship.
Spain are slightly favored to win Group E ahead of Germany, but both are heavily favored to drop out of the group.
Germany start with a Japanese squad that doesn’t command much respect despite having made it to the knockout rounds in three of the last five World Cups. Japan won’t get much respect in a group with Spain and Germany, but they have talented players and can play well with possession. The Japanese have intermittent problems in front of goal, which could be a problem against the group favorites who are likely to control the ball.
Spain vs Costa Rica
kick-off time: 11am ET/4pm GMT
Venue: Al Thumama, Doha
Spain are the day’s biggest favorites against one of the biggest longshots of the tournament. The two nations are not only opposites in terms of tournament favorites and outsiders, but also in terms of age.
The Spaniards bring one of the youngest teams at the tournament. The average age of the Spanish squad is 25.5, the sixth youngest in the tournament. Two young midfielders, Barcelona’s Pedri (19) and Gavi (18), are at the heart of the youth movement. Pedri, 19, is a dynamic passer who was arguably Spain’s best player when he reached the Euros semi-finals in the summer of 2021. He’s already getting comparisons to Andres Iniesta, fair or not.
Meanwhile, Costa Rica are still clinging to some of the players who were crucial to their 2014 quarterfinals. The Ticos are in the upper league of the middle roster, with players such as Keylor Navas (35), Celso Borges (34) and Bryan Ruiz (37) among the six players left in the 2014 roster.
In Costa Rica, some younger players appeared during a late rise in CONCACAF qualifiers to reach the intercontinental playoffs against New Zealand. After a slow start, the Ticos have gone 6-0-1 in their last seven qualifiers, including wins over the United States and Canada and a draw in Mexico.
Belgium vs Canada
kick-off time: 2pm ET/7pm GMT
Venue: Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
This could be the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation. The Red Devils have made it to the quarterfinals in the last four major tournaments, including third place at the last World Cup. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but it’s also not what was expected of this group.
Kevin De Bruyne is arguably the best attacking midfielder in the world. Romelu Lukaku is incredibly tough on defenders and can be lethal in front of goal when he’s substituted on. Thibaut Courtois is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Does this team have enough for a deeper run, or is this group’s best days behind it?
Longtime veterans Toby Aiderweireld (33) and Jan Vertonghen (35) in their mid-30s have questions about their defence. This is music to the ears of a young Canadian side with serious attacking talent and plenty of pace.
Canada has only attended one World Cup. It was 1986 and the Maple Leafs lost all three games without scoring.
Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies is one of the fastest players in the world and it can be a sight to behold, but he comes to the tournament recovering from a hamstring strain. Will he be able to show that elite pace? Lille’s Jonathan David and Club Brugge pair Cyle Larin and Tajon Buchanan can deliver a dangerous attack for Canada even without Davies. It could be fun watching Canada on the counter, especially if they can isolate this Belgian back in open space.
More from the 2022 World Cup
Guide to World Cup 2022, Group E: Spain’s young midfield stars and watch out for Germany’s triangles
Guide to World Cup 2022 Group F: Top Scorers Belgium, Cross-Heavy Croatia and Canada’s Cutbacks
(Photo by Pedri: Alex Caparros / Getty Images)