When the World Cup draw came out in April, one of the highlights of the group stage was Sunday’s Spain vs. Germany match at Al Bayt Stadium.
Eight months later, the game between the two former world champions and pre-tournament favorites gained even more prominence thanks to Germany’s surprising loss to Japan in its opener in Qatar.
Another setback against Spain this weekend and Germany may be heading home early for the second straight World Cup. A loss — coupled with at least a draw by Japan against Costa Rica earlier Sunday — will mean elimination for the four-time champions.
Spain, meanwhile, will be looking to secure its spot in the next stage and reinforce its status as one of the top title contenders following an impressive 7-0 rout of Costa Rica in its opener.
The signs are not encouraging for Germany. Its most recent match against Spain was an embarrassing 6-0 defeat in the Nations League two years ago. Its last win against “La Roja” came in a friendly eight years ago.
Germany won its fourth World Cup title in 2014 in Brazil but didn’t make it out of the group stage in 2018 after losses to South Korea and México. It would be the first time it fails to advance past the group stage in back-to-back tournaments.
Spain won its lone World Cup in 2010 in South Africa and was eliminated in the round of 16 in 2018 in Russia. A win against Germany will allow Spain to reach the last 16 if Costa Rica doesn’t defeat Japan.
Expectations around Spain’s young squad were raised after its outstanding performance against Costa Rica, when the team reintroduced “tiki-taka” ball-possession style and 18-year-old Gavi became the youngest World Cup scorer since Pelé in 1958.
The seven goals it scored against Costa Rica matched Spain’s tournament total from Russia in 2018.
“The result gives us a big boost,” Spain coach Luis Enrique said. “But now we have to play against a Germany team that needs the victory.”
Luis Enrique said he wasn’t concerned with his young players being overly confident, and promised to make changes to the starting lineup for Sunday’s match, without elaborating.
Winger Leroy Sané could return for Germany after missing the match against Japan because of a knee injury. He was back in training on Friday, when Germany coach Hansi Flick was able to work with his full 26-player squad.
It will be the fifth meeting between the powerhouses at World Cups, with Spain winning the most recent one 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2010 tournament.
Spain hasn’t lost to Germany in official competitions since the 1988 European Championship, with two draws and three wins since then.
The Germans have lost three of their last four World Cup matches dating to the tournament in Russia.
They made headlines even before kickoff against Japan by covering their mouths to protest FIFA’s clampdown on the “One Love” armbands. It was not clear if they would repeat the gesture before the Spain match.