Spain v Costa Rica
Group E kicks off on Wednesday with Spain facing a must-win clash before Sunday’s decisive fixture against Germany. Up against them, they face a side who know all about playing the role of the underdog.
Despite that, Spain will be delighted to be starting their attempt at glory with a game against Costa Rica, a nation they have only faced three times in their history but have yet to suffer defeat to. The last meeting was as recently as 2017, when La Roja ran out 5-0 victors.
Luis Enrique’s only doubts come in defence, where José Luis Gayà’s late withdrawal means that Jordi Alba is likely to step up, while Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte seem likely to be the starting pairing in the middle. The rest of the team picks itself, with the sole potential for a surprise being Marco Asensio, who has registered assists in four of his last five Spain appearances.
Costa Rica may have felt hard done by after the group stage draw pitted them against Spain and Germany, but they did top a group of death with England, Italy and Uruguay in 2014 and veterans like Keylor Navas and Bryan Ruiz will be out to repeat that feat in Qatar.
Their preparations have been disrupted by a cancelled friendly against Iran on Friday over passport issues, but coach Luis Fernando Suárez declared that his team “have been in World Cup mode for a long time” and insisted that he has “a good feeling” about this clash.
With Spain set to spend most of the game in their opponents’ half, the Spanish should be able to get off a lot of shots too. Luis Enrique often throws up personnel surprises and there is an injury doubt too, over Álvaro Morata, but Ferran Torres is as much of a sure starter as you can get with this coach, as he played the most minutes of all outfielders in qualifying.
Ferran Torres made the most of those minutes by getting off 3.49 shots per 90 minutes. That was the highest figure for all Spain players who completed at least 90 minutes this calendar year.
The big criticism with Ferran Torres is that he’s not the most accurate, but 77% of his shots have been on target for his country over the last year, compared to 42% for his club. With strong backing from Luis Enrique and playing in a more comfortable wide role, he can really thrive and use that confidence to challenge Keylor Navas.
Gavi is the combative teenager who has made his name one of the first on Luis Enrique’s teamsheets for every fixture, having played a part in every game since his first call-up in October 2021. Against Jordan in Spain’s warm-up friendly, he secured his second goal in Spain colours and will be looking to add to that.
He is also one of the leading figures for fouls among the Spain team. With 2.56 fouls per 90 in his international career, a higher figure than any other player over the past 12 months. Given referee Mohammed Abdulla Mohammed has a career average of 3.11 cards per 90, but that rises to 4 per 90 when refereeing in international competitions in what will be only his second World Cup match.
That means that we can expect to see Gavi in the thick of the action either way, but is good odds to be involved either with a card or with a goal to maintain his run of scoring in a game which Spain should dominate and look to give Gavi attacking licence just as they did against Jordan.
If Costa Rica manage to get anything from this group, it’ll be a miracle. They’re the massive underdog in Group E and are predicted to finish bottom. Any positive result will come from disrupting their opponents’ play as much as possible.
They’re up against a Spain side who will want to maintain a rhythm to their game. Spain also draw an average of 1.88 cards per game. Costa Rica will surely look to be aggressive, break up play, and even waste time. There should be plenty of opportunities for Costa Rica yellows with Spain dominating most of the ball.
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