DOHA, Qatar (AP) — A surprise opening-match loss has Germany headed into its second game seeking an easy victory to avoid a second consecutive early World Cup exit.
Too bad the Germans play Spain in what should be anything but a leisurely Sunday stroll.
Spain routed Costa Rica 7-0 in its opening match for the most lopsided game of this year’s tournament. It was the largest margin of victory for La Roja in a World Cup game and its first opening-match win since 2006.
Germany should be concerned about its fate as it tries to avoid losing three consecutive World Cup games. Prior to Germany’s early elimination in 2018, the men’s team had not failed to advance out of group stage since 1938.
The four-time World Cup champions were upset by Japan 2-1 on Wednesday. Spain and Japan lead Group E with three points each, while Germany and Costa Rica have no points.
“We are optimistic,” Germany coach Hansi Flick said Saturday. “We have to be brave and believe in our quality. We want to stick to our game because we have the quality. We trust the team. We’re positive and just really want to see that we approach this game on Sunday against Spain positively.
“It’s simply important to deal with defeats, but also to clear your head and focus on the new task, and that’s our goal, to get the team to the point where they naturally believe that they can push this thing in the right direction on Sunday.”
Spain, meanwhile, has only lost once in its previous seven matches against Germany. This will be the fifth meeting between the teams at the World Cup and Spain won the last outing, 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2010 tournament.
Spain was so dominant against Costa Rica that its 81.9% possession was the most in a World Cup match since 1966, when statistical service Opta began tracking the data. The previous mark was 80.3% set by Argentina in 2010.
Spain has only won its first two games of a World Cup three times, and not since 2006, so coach Luis Enrique has cautioned his group about being too confident.
“Against a team like Germany we can’t be overconfident otherwise they will trounce you,” Luis Enrique said. “It’s a rival that requires all of our attention and effort. It’s a great challenge for us.”
Back in the World Cup for the first time in 36 years, Canada fell flat with a 1-0 opening loss to Belgium. In the post-game huddle, coach John Herdman was explicit in what he told his squad to do next when it faced Croatia.
“I told them they belong here. And we’re going to go and ‘F’ Croatia,” Herdman smiled as he used the single letter to avoid profanity. “That’s as simple as it gets.”
His words made their way back to Croatia, where a tabloid ran a full-page photo of a naked Herdman with Maple Leaf flags over his mouth and genitals and a headline that translated to: “You have the mouth, but do you have the (guts) as well?”
“This way of putting words together is not a sign of respect,” Croatia coach Zlatko Dalić said Saturday through a translator, who repeated the word “respect” 13 times in English as he relayed Dalić’s remarks.
“The way we play, the way we behave and the way we respect all others are the reasons we are worthy of respect.”
Herdman said he did not mean any disrespect.
“You say those things in an impassioned moment trying to inspire your team in a huddle, and when you’re asked the question what you said in that huddle, yeah, it was what I said,” he said.
“It’s not massively respectful to Croatian people and the Croatian national team. I understand very well where they’re at on the world stage. But in that moment, you’ve taken your men to that next place.”
Croatia lost the 2018 final to France and the world’s 12th-ranked team opened the World Cup with a 0-0 draw against Morocco. Canada has played only four World Cup games in its history and still is searching for its first goal.
The Japan match against Costa Rica features two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum: Japan surprised Germany with 2-1 upset, while Costa Rica was routed 7-0 by Spain in the most lopsided game so far of this year’s World Cup.
The seven goals allowed by Costa Rica were as many as the team had allowed in its previous eight World Cup matches dating to 2014. The team also failed to take a single shot against Spain, marking only the second time since 1966 a squad did not have an attempt on goal. That team? Costa Rica against Brazil in 1990.
Costa Rica coach Luis Fernando Suarez was blunt in assessing his team’s performance.
“I’ll have to be very direct: We did a lot wrong. We made mistakes, and I think we should all be very clear about what our mistakes have been, starting with myself, my tactical responsibility,” he said. “We have to forget about the result. It will be very difficult. But we do have players who are good enough to play differently.
“We have to improve a great deal. We need to take on that responsibility and the blame, but also the way to move on is by focusing on positive results and to forget.”
Costa Rica has never beaten Japan and lost three of their previous four meetings.
Japan is seeking consecutive World Cup victories for the first time since 2002 and has never reached the quarterfinals of the tournament. Japan is making a seventh consecutive World Cup appearance and made it to the round of 16 three times, including in Russia in 2018 when it blew a 2-0 lead to lose to Belgium 3-2.
When he was told he’d been named player of the match following Belgium’s 1-0 win over Canada in its opening match, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne was embarrassed to receive the award.
“I don’t think I played a great game. I don’t know why I got that trophy,” he said. “It’s maybe because of the name.”
He gets a chance at improving his play Sunday against Morocco, and a win for Belgium would be its ninth consecutive in group play dating to the 2002 tournament. Belgium did not make the 2006 and 2010 World Cups.
Morocco held Croatia to a goalless draw in its Group F opener and doesn’t seem to be intimidated by Belgium after neutralizing Luka Modric in that match. But the team is still getting to know one another, including coach Walid Regragui, who was hired at the end of August and coached only three friendly games before arriving at the World Cup.
“Arriving in these conditions is not easy, but I accepted the challenge,” Regragui said.
Belgium are unbeaten in their four World Cup meetings with African teams.
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