Who: Spain vs Costa Rica, Group E
Where: Al Thumama Stadium
When: Wednesday, November 23 at 7pm (16:00 GMT)
FIFA ranking: Spain (7), Costa Rica (31)
Los Ticos — as the Costa Rica side is known — will be looking to repeat their heroic performances at the 2014 World Cup, where they defied the odds and topped a group that included three World Cup winners: Uruguay, England and Italy. They then knocked out Greece in the round of 16, reaching the quarter-finals, where they lost to the Netherlands on penalties.
They have again drawn a difficult group this year, with Germany, Spain and Japan.
In Spain, they will face a team that includes a mix of young promising players such as 18-year-old Gavi and 19-year-old Pedri — both midfielders — as well as seasoned veterans such as Chelsea defender César Azpilicueta.
Under manager Luis Enrique, Spain have enjoyed a strong run of form recently, topping their UEFA Nations League group and picking up a morale-boosting win against Portugal in September.
But anyone who underestimates Costa Rica does so at their peril. Los Ticos have won their last five matches and notched up some impressive performances in their World Cup qualification campaign, including wins over Canada and the United States.
“The first match is always difficult, but on paper, Spain is the favourite to beat Costa Rica,” says Sayed Nabawy, a sports journalist specialising in Spanish football. “A win would give Spain confidence in the next game, where they will meet Germany.”
Costa Rica are expected to play a conservative brand of football. It is a style they have become known for in recent years and is one that frustrated several high-profile teams in 2014. At the heart of the defensive structure is Keylor Navas, the Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper who has made more than 100 appearances for his country.
Spain will look to their attacking flair to break down an often-stubborn Costa Rican defence. They will not want a repeat of their opening match at Euro 2020 against Sweden, where they failed to score despite having 17 shots on goal and a staggering 86 percent of the possession.
Costa Rica will face a tough task up front, with the 30-year-old ex-Arsenal forward Joel Campbell facing the likes of Real Madrid’s Dani Carvajal and Barcelona’s Eric Garcia in defence. Spain have not conceded more than two goals in a game since they beat Croatia 5-3 at Euro 2020 more than a year ago.
Spain have decided to leave several high-profile names out of their World Cup squad, including Navas’ former Real Madrid teammate Sergio Ramos and Manchester United’s David de Gea.
Neither team performed well at the last World Cup, with Costa Rica finishing bottom of their group with only one point and Spain losing to Russia in the last 16. They will both want to make up for that in Qatar – starting on Wednesday.