Spain will begin their 2022 World Cup campaign when they take on Australia in a Group E encounter at the Al Thumama Stadium in Doha on Wednesday afternoon.

The second game in the first round of Group E at the World Cup 2022 is a match-up between Spain and Costa Rica.

Spain have not featured in a major tournament final (including World Cup and Euros) since their dominant years between 2008 and 2012 when they won two European Championships and a World Cup. However, a new generation of exciting, technically gifted teenagers, led by players such as Pedri and Ansu Fati, is instilling optimism for a return to the golden years.

The 2010 champions come into the tournament off the back of a fine run on the international stage. Luis Enrique’s youth-infused team progressed to the Euro 2020 semi-finals before reaching the Nations League final months later.

They have already qualified for the next round of Nations League semi-finals. But their lack of killer instinct in the final third has ended up costing them in the latter stages of these tournaments. La Roja will look to up the ante with a comprehensive victory in their World Cup opener.

Costa Rica, meanwhile, hold a reputation for punching above their weight at World Cups, having reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 edition, which is a big feat for them, before dropping out at the hands of the Netherlands.

They are becoming ever-present at this coveted tournament, having made it to the finals in all but one edition of it since the turn of the century. However, they’ve only made it beyond the group stage once in four outings, and the draw for Qatar suggests they won’t be there for long.

They failed to advance from the group stage in 2018, and we anticipate them to do so again in a “Group of Death” that includes Germany and their opponents, Spain.

Team News & Tactics

Spain

Youth is the name of the game for Spain at this year’s World Cup, as Ansu Fati, Nico Williams, Yeremy Pino, and Hugo Guillamon have been picked by Luis Enrique. The establishment — David de Gea, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Ramos, Kepa Arrizabalaga, and Gerard Moreno — have all been left at home. Alejandro Balde has replaced Jose Gaya in the squad after the Valencia left-back got injured in training.

Luis Enrique will stick with a tried-and-tested traditional 4-3-3 formation with high press, controlling tempo, working intense triangles, and creating high-quality chances off the back of intricate moves their identity.

Spain are blessed with a plethora of technically brilliant players. So their strength is in midfield with some wonderful dribblers to help get out of tight spaces, be press-resistant, and break into the final third, but they severely lack the cutting edge in the striker department.

Ferran Torres found the back of the net four times for La Roja in qualifying for the tournament in Qatar, more than any other player. And Luis Enrique will be hoping that trend continues in the finals with Spain lacking a prolific goalscorer in their ranks.

Despite his young age, Ansu Fati will shoulder the burden to create magical moments if needed throughout the tournament. Alvaro Morata will be given the chance up front and is a very underrated finisher. The Atletico Madrid man will also initiate the press from the front.

The all-Barcelona trio of Pedri, Sergio Busquets, and Gavi will feature in the middle of the park for Spain. Unai Simon is the undisputed number one, and the same goes for Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres in the central defensive rearguard, both exceptional ball-playing defenders. Full-backs Dani Carvajal and Jordi Alba have attacking and crossing capabilities and will camp in the opposition half.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Simon; Carvajal, Laporte, Pau Torres, Alba; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; Fati, Morata, Ferran Torres

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s World Cup lineup features a few familiar World Cup names. Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, and Joel Campbell have all exhibited their ability to compete on the world’s biggest platform, and they will be hoping to do so again in Qatar.

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Los Ticas’ are managed by Luis Fernando Suarez, who has significant previous World Cup experience, and plays a pragmatic style of football that allows the opposition to create a number of chances, and relies heavily on their striker, Campbell’s hold-up play and poaching instincts.

Costa Rica kept a clean sheet in six of their last seven qualifiers before beating New Zealand 1-0 in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they limited the opposition.

The reason why their defence ran insanely hot is the presence of PSG shot-stopper Navas in between the sticks, who played out of his skin in those games. Costa Rica only conceded eight goals over the whole of their World Cup qualifying campaign but shipped 20.03 xG against, with their outstandingly good keeper preventing almost 1 xG per game.

They also boast a decent defence with the likes of Juan Francisco Calvo and Oscar Duarte, flanked by Alonso Martinez and Bryan Oviedo. Captain Bryan Ruiz and Los Ticos’ most-capped player, Celso Borges, will pull the strings in midfield and will have their work cut out against Spain’s dynamic runners. They will be supported by Gerson Torres.

Campbell is likely to lead the attack along with 22-year-old exciting star Anthony Contreras, while 18-year-old breakout Sunderland wonderkid Jewison Bennette will also get a chance to impress on the left wing.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Navas; Oviedo, Calvo, Duarte, C. Martinez; G. Torres, Ruiz, Borges; Campbell, Contreras, Bennette

Key Stats

  • This is the first clash between Spain and Costa Rica at the FIFA World Cup. The European giants are unbeaten in the other three meetings between the two – including friendlies – (W2 D1).
  • Costa Rica have failed to win any of their last six World Cup matches.
  • Spain are unbeaten in their last five World Cup matches but have not won a World Cup knockout game since the 2010 triumph in South Africa.
  • Spain have lost seven World Cup opening matches, more than any other country.
  • Spain’s next goal at the FIFA World Cup will be their 100th in the tournament.

Player to Watch

Pedri

While Luis Enrique’s current Spain incarnation is filled with youthful exuberance, Pedri, a 19-year-old generational midfield talent is probably the pick of the bunch in this new generation in the Spanish national side. The Barcelona playmaker will be one of the most exciting young talents to watch out for in this World Cup.

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He has gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years or so and has shown maturity beyond his years to not only become an integral part of Xavi Hernandez’s Barcelona side but also the Spanish national side. So much so that whenever he didn’t feature La Roja, he would struggle for creativity to break down low blocks, and the game would be boring.

He has great game intelligence, elegant passing, and a playmaking skillset. He doesn’t score many goals, but he’s an entertaining watch for every football fan with his fearless style of play involving flair dribbling, flicks, nutmegs, and driving with the ball at his feet. Still only 19, he will surely be lighting up big competitions like this for many years to come.

Prediction

Spain 2-0 Costa Rica

Forecasting a 2-0 scoreline in Spain’s favour may come back to bite here. Luis Enrique’s men are likely to score more than two goals to have a good head start in goal difference in what is a tricky group. The Hard Tackle expects Spain to brush Costa Rica aside easily. There could be plenty of goals on display at the Al Thumama Stadium, but Spain tends to be wasteful in front of the goal.

The Central American side rode their luck to reach the finals and rely heavily on the shot-stopping exploits of veteran keeper Keylor Navas to scrape through the CONCACAF qualifying and beat a dominant New Zealand in the playoffs thanks to controversial refereeing decisions. They are likely to struggle a lot on the big stage, while Luis Enrique’s men are expected to finish at the summit of Group E at the end of the group phase.

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