World Cup Group E Rundown: The Real Group of Death

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With just the intercontinental playoffs and one European playoff to be completed, we have set 29 of the 32 teams for this winter’s World Cup in Qatar. This year’s World Cup is unique for many reasons. First and foremost, you have the dates on which it is occurring. FIFA deemed the Middle Eastern summer too severe for the competition to be played in the usual June/July time slot. The governing body of world football then decided, much to European football’s chagrin, to move the dates to the end of the year.

It has thrown many of the biggest European league schedules for next season into chaos. The other reason this World Cup will be unique is the Middle Eastern setting. The tiny, but incredibly rich nation of Qatar has the privilege of hosting the biggest international sporting competition in the world. 

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With so much anticipation surrounding it, the draw took place this past Friday in Doha and it has thrown up some incredibly tasty-looking fixtures. In this series, I am going to look at each group and give some context to each team.

Group E – The Real Group of Death

  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Japan
  • Costa Rica/New Zealand

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Earlier in this series, I speculated Group H might just be the dreaded ‘Group of Death’. That was wrong. I don’t think there can be any argument that Group E is not the real ‘Group of Death’ at this year’s World Cup. With three sides inside the top 25 of FIFA’s official rankings, this group contains must-see matchups -almost exclusively.

European giants Spain and Germany headline this group alongside Asian heavyweights Japan. An intercontinental play-in match between Costa Rica & New Zealand will decide the other spot in this group.

Spain

Spain is a bit of a wildcard at this year’s tournament. Whilst they are nowhere near their heyday of 10-15 years ago, they are not to be dismissed. They qualified for the semi-finals of last summer’s Euro 2020. Don’t forget that they only lost to eventual winners in Italy via the lottery of a penalty shootout. They also made the finals of the UEFA Nations League.

Spain qualified for this year’s World Cup by topping group B in the UEFA section of qualifying. 

There is a transitional feel about this side as well. Long gone are the Xavi’s, Andrés Iniesta’s, and David Villa’s. In their place are the likes of Ferran Torres, Ansu Fati, and Pedri. The latter of which is my pick to be one of the best players of his generation. Whilst the three players I mentioned are brilliant, their best football is definitely ahead of them. This World Cup might be a little too soon for them to dominate.

Germany

The German side head into this World Cup with a fresh face in the dugout. Gone is the inimitable Joachim Low, in his place is former Bayern Munich gaffer Hansi Flick. This will be the first major tournament Germany has appeared in without Low in the hot seat since Euro 2008.

Four-time World Cup champions, Germany has seen their status in international slip somewhat in recent years. The 2018 was one to forget for Die Mannschaft.

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It saw the Germans embarrassingly sent home at the group stage after suffering three straight defeats. In Low’s swansong as manager at Euro 2020, England bundled them out at the Round of 16 stage. Failure at the most recent two major tournaments has seen them out of the top 10 in world rankings.

After winning 9 of their 10 qualification fixtures in Group J of the UEFA section, there is a feeling that Germany can turn the corner at this tournament. With new manager Hansi Flick, there is a feeling Nationalelf will return to the summit of football yet again. Genuine world-class superstars like Kai Havertz and Joshua Kimmich won’t hurt either.

Japan

A true heavyweight of Asian football, Japan qualified for their eighth World Cup by finishing runner-up to Saudi Arabia in Group B of AFC World Cup qualifying. They finished above arch-rival Australia in that group. Now there is a hunger to see the Samurai Blue test themselves against the best the world offers.

There is some actual strength and experience in this Japanese national setup. Takumi Minamino and Takehiro Tomiyasu both ply their trades in the Premier League. Maya Yoshida plays for Italian Serie A club Sampdoria. Along with those three, they have a player on Real Madrid’s books also in Takefusa Kubo. Kubo is currently on loan at Real Mallorca, playing in La Liga.

Do not sleep on Japan on at this World Cup. They will be there to capitalize if any side in their group does not bring their A-game to Qatar.

Costa Rica or New Zealand

As this last spot isn’t decided, we will take a brief look at both sides.

Unsurprisingly, the All-Whites qualified for this play-off with relative ease from the Oceania section of qualifying. Currently ranked 101st in FIFA’s official world rankings, New Zealand will look to qualify for a third World Cup finals in their history. The likes of Chris Wood and Winston Reid will be crucial if they are to succeed in that goal.

Costa Rica finished fourth in the CONCACAF Octagonal for this play-off opportunity. They considered this a slight disappointment, as they are actually the third-ranked side in the region. Regardless of that, the country will expect to qualify for the World Cup.

PSG goalkeeper Keylor Navas will carry the weight of the nation on his shoulders.

Stuart Kavanagh is an up-and-coming sports journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Along with being the owner of the sports and entertainment website thepyrrhic.com, he is also the co-host of the ‘After Extra Time’ podcast. Football mad, he is always down for debate and discussion at @stueyissickofit on Twitter.

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