Who: Germany vs Costa Rica, Group E
Where: Al Bayt Stadium
When: Thursday, December 1, 10pm (19:00 GMT)
FIFA rankings: Germany (11), Costa Rica (31)
Wounded Germany will have their backs to the wall when they take on Costa Rica in their final World Cup Group E match on Thursday and know they must bag their first win of the tournament, preferably by a large margin, to have any chances of advancing.
The Germans are bottom of the group having gained only one point from their two matches so far, raising the spectre of another first-round exit following their early elimination in Russia four years ago.
Even victory over the Costa Ricans may not be enough, and Germany will be looking to Spain to inflict defeat on Japan to open the door to the next round. A draw between Spain and Japan — or a win for Japan — would bring goal difference into play, if Germany does defeat Costa Rica.
Spain top the group on four points ahead of Japan and Costa Rica, both on three.
Scoring has not been a strong point for German coach Hansi Flick’s team but centre forward Niclas Fuellkrug’s excellent run for club and country in recent months has improved their prospects. The 29-year-old, an unlikely addition to the squad prior to the tournament, snatched a late equaliser against Spain after coming on as a substitute to keep their hopes alive going into the final group match.
The burly striker is now a serious option to lead the line on Thursday with many German pundits and fans demanding he start.
However, assistant coach Marcus Sorg dampened expectations over Fuellkrug, saying he was “not a cure-all” for the team’s problems.
“We have to see what effect which player has at any given time,” Sorg said. “We need a certain structure, stability and security. Security comes with consistency.”
Whatever line-up Germany go with, they know their task is to preserve what remains of their once powerful tournament reputation, having failed to win the first two matches in a World Cup group for the first time.
Germany’s opponents on Thursday haven’t had a great time of it either — Costa Rica have had just one shot on target in their two matches.
Still, that shot resulted in the goal that brought them victory over Japan and kept their qualification hopes alive. If they defeat Germany and Spain beat Japan, they will finish second in the group. It would be some story for a team that lost its first game 7-0 to make it to the Round of 16.