FIFA has defended the VAR verdict that saw Japan score a controversial goal against Spain, knocking Germany out of the World Cup in the process.

The video assistant referee ruled there was nothing wrong with Japan's winner in Thursday's game, scored by Ao Tanaka.

Television replays cast some doubt on that decision, with Kaoru Mitoma crossing from a position where, from certain angles, the ball looked to have run off the pitch.

Tanaka bundled the ball over the line, and a drawn-out VAR review ruled Brighton and Hove Albion player Mitoma had kept the ball in play.

On Friday, FIFA blamed "misleading images" for appearing to point to the ball having fully left the boundaries of the pitch.

The world governing body insisted its VAR integrity was as watertight as could be, with the video evidence it presented showing the whole of the ball had not crossed the dead-ball line, even though almost all of it had.

Such replays had been a long time in coming, critics said, with a number of broadcast pundits questioning on Thursday why such forensic images were not shown during the game coverage, if they were made available to the VAR.

FIFA's statement, issued on Twitter, read: "Japan's second goal in their 2-1 win over Spain was checked by VAR to determine if the ball had gone out of play. The video match officials used the goal line camera images to check if the ball was still partially on the line or not.

"Other cameras may offer misleading images but on the evidence available, the whole of the ball was not out of play."

The outcome of the game means Spain go forward to face Morocco in the last-16 stage, while Japan, as Group E winners, will take on Croatia, who were runners-up in Group F.

Four-time champions Germany exited the tournament because of Japan's 2-1 win, with their own 4-2 success over Costa Rica proving nothing more than a consolation.

Goals from Ritsu Doan and Ao Tanaka helped Japan reach the World Cup last 16 as Group E winners with a remarkable 2-1 victory over Spain, with La Roja joining them as Germany were dumped out.

With both sides knowing a win would see them advance, Spain wasted little time in hitting the front as Alvaro Morata headed beyond Shuichi Gonda for his third goal of the tournament early on.

However, Spain failed to capitalise on their huge dominance of possession as Japan turned the game on its head with a quickfire second-half double, Doan firing home from range before Tanaka bundled in a second.

Spain were briefly on their way out of the World Cup when Costa Rica took the lead against Germany in the group's other fixture.

But Germany's late comeback in a 4-2 win ensured La Roja survived an incredible finale to go through as runners-up.

Fernando Hierro has hailed a "great generation" of youthful Spain and England talent shining at the World Cup, referencing the likes of Jude Bellingham and Gavi,

Bellingham, 19, and 21-year-old Saka have impressed in Qatar for England as Gareth Southgate's side secured progression to the knockout stage as Group B winners after Tuesday's 3-0 victory over Wales.

Spain are within touching distance of the knockout stage in the Middle East as well, needing to just avoid defeat against Japan on Thursday to qualify, while victory will take them through as Group E winners.

Bellingham has been ever-present and Saka scored twice for England in a 6-2 win against Iran, with Pedri, Gavi and Ferran Torres leading the way for Luis Enrique's side, much to Hierro's delight.

"I am surprised at the number of young kids with enormous talent who are feeling important in a World Cup, who are 19 or 20 years old, and that's incredible," Hierro told Stats Perform.

"It's something that I find hard to think about, that kids are so prepared with just 19 or 20 years in them and that they are playing as if they are 27 years old.

"They are very young players. Bellingham, Saka, Pedri, Gavi and Torres. It's incredible, unbelievable.

"The great generation of young boys. That speaks very well of the grassroots work that England and Spain have."

David Villa, a 2010 World Cup winner with Spain, echoed Hierro's sentiment but insisted Enrique's current crop should not be compared against the La Roja side that won FIFA's top tournament in South Africa.

"It would be a mistake if we compared the team all the time [to the 2010 one]," Villa told Stats Perform at the Adidas house in Doha.

"They are all good players, they are talented players, young players, they are great. They have a great team and if all the time we try to compare to the 2010 side, it is a mistake for me.

"We need to believe in these guys and believe they can do it."

On teenager Gavi, Villa added: "He is 18 years old. It is incredible the way that he has been playing, not just now, but the last year with the national team and with Barcelona at this age.

"So, his future is bright. I don't know what will happen with this player, but he will have an amazing career because at 18 years old, it is very difficult to show the things he is doing."

The likes of Andres Iniesta, Villa and Xavi have made way for Pedri, Gavi and Torres in Spain's youthful and exciting side, but one face remains the same.

Spain captain Sergio Busquets was part of Vicente del Bosque's World Cup-winning side and remains a key cog in Enrique's team – though that comes as no surprise to Villa.

"I think Busquets is the best player playing this position, for me, of all time," Villa continued.

"He showed in this World Cup that he has continued to be important for the national team, he continues to be important for the world of football. But you never know, to still be playing in four years' time is a lot."

While Villa believes Spain "have a chance" to win their second World Cup, the former La Roja striker suggested England are among the favourites for global glory.

"They have great players, they have a strong team," the 40-year-old said. "For me, I’ve said from the beginning, England are one of the favourites to take the trophy because the squad they have is amazing."

Spain control their own destiny and also that of Germany in their final Group E match against Japan, but Koke insists La Roja are not paying any mind to the wider consequences of a potential victory.

Luis Enrique's men only need a point to make sure of their place in the last 16, while a win over Samurai Blue at the Khalifa International Stadium will ensure they go through as group winners.

The latter outcome on Thursday would suit Germany down to the ground, as Die Nationalelf – who face Costa Rica simultaneously – can clinch a spot in the next round if they win and Japan lose. If Spain are held and Hansi Flick's men win, goal difference will come into play for the 2014 champions.

There is undoubtedly a perception that Germany crashing out would be good for Spain in the long run, given La Roja's designs on winning the tournament.

But Koke is adamant Spain – who have won their final group game in eight of their past nine World Cup appearances – are only focused on themselves.

"Our only strategy is to go out and win the next game against Japan," he told reporters.

"We've always done it. Obviously, you do the maths on how the classification would look, but our idea is to respect our opponent by going in to win the games.

"It's the only way to prepare for the game and qualify."

Providing Spain finish the job and qualify, they will face either Croatia, Morocco or Belgium in the next round.

But winning the group would put them on course to face Brazil in the quarter-finals, assuming both make it that far.

Koke shrugged off such concerns.

"I don't think we fear anyone," he continued. "We have the utmost respect for all the national teams.

"We don't think about the quarter-final because first we have to win against Japan. Our idea is to win and then we'll see who will come.

"If Brazil face us in the quarter-finals and we have the fortune to get that far, we will try to get there in the best way. We have the same idea of ​​going to win every game."

Japan's position in the group is somewhat precarious.

Hajime Moriyasu's side followed up their shock Germany win with a similarly surprising loss to Costa Rica, meaning they will need at least a point against Spain if they are to qualify for the knockout stages at consecutive World Cup tournaments for the first time ever. Even then, a draw might not be enough.

Moriyasu is not downplaying the task facing his team, rating Spain as the world's best.

But he believes they can repeat the heroics of their win over Germany.

"[Spain] are the best team in the world," Moriyasu said. "They demonstrate their skill by working together even in ferocious battles. We want to win and get past them.

"We shouldn't be on an emotional rollercoaster. The victories and defeats are in the past and now we start preparing for the next game.

"We can have a big win [against Spain] like we did against Germany by making incremental strides."
 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Japan – Maya Yoshida

The odds are stacked firmly against Japan for this game. If they are to get the result they require to go through, Samurai Blue will presumably need to be effective defensively.

At the back, Japan will look to the experienced Yoshida, who was excellent on matchday one. And he could be particularly key if Alvaro Morata comes into the Spain starting XI after scoring against Germany.

Yoshida won five of his six duels last time out and also plays a key role in Japan building out from the back, as he recorded 122 touches against Costa Rica – Wataru Endo (113) was the only other Japan player to register more than 83.

Spain – Dani Olmo

RB Leipzig winger Olmo was heavily involved against Germany. The only non-defender to have more touches than his 70 was Pedri (82), whereas Olmo's 17 passes in the final third was the most for Spain.

On top of that, his two key passes was only bettered by Jamal Musiala (three), and Olmo also hit the crossbar with a fierce first-half strike.

He may not have played much in the lead up to the tournament, but he has looked sharp in Qatar – Japan would be wise to pay close attention.

PREDICTION

Anything other than a Spain victory would be a surprise. La Roja go into the contest with a 67.1 per cent chance of taking all three points, and therefore winning the group.

Japan's win probability is just 12.3 per cent and the draw comes in at 20.6 per cent – Moriyasu would probably settle for the latter, however.

Luis Enrique insists Spain will not take any chances by trying to engineer a specific result against Japan in an attempt to avoid Brazil in the World Cup quarter-finals.

La Roja face Samurai Blue on Thursday knowing a victory will secure top spot in Group E and set up a last-16 clash with the runners-up from Group F.

But that would also put them on track to play the Selecao in the last eight.

Trying to avoid Brazil has been a topic of much debate during Spain's media duties in the past few days, and Luis Enrique even confessed to discussing the situation with his team.

But trying to manipulate a result that would see Spain finish second is far too risky for Luis Enrique's liking.

"Great question, we've wondered about this and reflected on it. From a professional point of view, we are only thinking of winning because the four teams can qualify," he said.

"We want to be first, we cannot and should not speculate. It's very human to talk about it, we have done it, but it's useless to choose.

"Imagine, we reach minute 95, we are drawing 0-0, we are winners of the group. But then just before full-time, Costa Rica and Japan score. You've speculated the entire game and then in the last 15 seconds you concede. That's it, you're out.

"If you're convinced your team is a good one [you try to win]. We're here to win seven games.

"Your theory is Brazil [in the quarter-finals]. Let's play Brazil. We can't start with these estimations.

"We try to put up a fight – it doesn't matter who we're playing in the round of 16 or quarter-finals.

"If we play Brazil in the quarters, well so be it… We must beat Japan – elite sport and speculation don't compute, or we don't understand it that way. Being first would mean that we have been better.

"To win a World Cup you have to win against everyone who comes your way. That's our goal."

In fact, Luis Enrique went on to suggest he would welcome facing Brazil in the quarter-finals, even if it meant a trickier route to the final for La Roja.

"I hope to play against Brazil. It will mean that we have both reached the quarter-finals," he continued.

"Brazil is always a clear favourite [for the World Cup], regardless of the year. They have so much talent and quality, both individually and collectively.

"As for everyone else [the favourites], there aren't big surprises. I always stick to the FIFA rankings, you can see which are the favourites. You look at the top 10, some aren't here but generally those are the favourites. Brazil, France won [their groups] easily, so there's no surprises."

Spain have generally impressed across their first two games with their vibrant and attack-minded style of play, with many considering them early favourites despite possessing one of the youngest squads.

But one of their young talents who is yet to make an appearance is Ansu Fati, who some felt was fortunate to even be named in the squad after only playing bit-part role for Barcelona this season on his return from injury.

Luis Enrique acknowledged Fati was the most uncertain selection in the group, but he stressed he was thrilled with the training level of all of his forwards.

"He was the last player to enter the list. He wasn't even in the squad in the previous two international breaks. It might be the position where I had the most doubts, regarding bringing Ansu or another player.

"I have to base my decisions on training. We have eight forwards training so well, I am delighted with them, they are flying. It's a shame they've not all had minutes, they all deserve to play and it hurts me, but there's no space for everyone – some will not play.

"There's five substitutes allowed, and some players will end the competition without playing a minute. I'm sorry about that, so sorry, but they have to keep training at a top level and I make decisions based on what I see. I am sorry, but also happy with what I see from those eight players."

The Netherlands have been officially confirmed as hosts for the 2023 Nations League Finals.

The Oranje were widely expected to welcome their rivals to face them on home soil, as only them and Group A4 opponents Belgium, Poland and Wales expressed an interest in staging the knockout finale.

Having seen off the trio to qualify as group winners, the Netherlands will now welcome Croatia, Italy and Spain next year for the climax to the 2022-23 edition.

In the absence of the Johan Cruyff Arena and Philips Stadion due to concerts, the matches will be played instead at Feyenoord's De Kuip and De Grolsch Veste - the home of FC Twente.

The tournament commences with the semi-finals on June 14 and June 15, while the final and third-place play-off will take place on June 18.

The draw to determine the last-four pairings will be made at UEFA's headquarters in Nyon next January.

Alvaro Morata would be content to start each of Spain's World Cup games on the substitutes' bench if it meant La Roja won the tournament.

Atletico Madrid striker Morata has come off the bench in both of his country's games in Qatar so far, scoring in the win over Costa Rica and the draw with Germany.

Those four points mean Luis Enrique's side need only a point against Japan on Thursday to qualify for the knockout stage.

Should he not be selected in the starting XI for that match, Morata insists he will have no complaints and will gladly cheer his team-mates on.

"At club level you've got more time to train, more space, and obviously, you want to play," he told Onda Cero. "But here, I can assure you that it doesn't bother to me at all [to be a substitute].

"In fact, if I had to choose coming on from the bench in all the games, or even not playing, but the team wins the World Cup, I would sign up for it. I would cheer the team on from the bench.

"In the end, we have a goal, a dream, and all of us feel important. Everyone is important in different ways. All of us are important and everyone has his function.

"Many players who don't play can be the ones who give more to the group. Historically, it has been like that in the national team.

"I always give an example to the people that want to play but don't play as much as they want. They have to look at Pepe Reina and Iker Casillas.

"They were here [previous World Cups] without playing, but they always gave their best, so they are examples to follow, and they got the credit that they deserved, whether they played or not."

Morata is Spain's joint-fifth highest scorer of all time with 29 goals, yet he has often been criticised by supporters.

The 30-year-old admits he has spent too much time listening to other people's opinions of him, but says his own criticism has been the most damaging.

"I enjoy doing my job," he added. "People can call me crazy, but I have spent maybe eight or nine years of a career that can last 15, thinking about what, how, and when people say.

"A person has to be happy as he is, assume the good and bad things, and don't let anyone take away your happiness.

"If there is one thing I regret in my professional career and in my life, it is having been my own worst enemy many times."

Joan Laporta believes Barcelona's strong contingent of players within the Spain squad can help propel the national side to victory at the World Cup.

A 7-0 demolition of Costa Rica was followed by a 1-1 draw with Germany and has put the 2010 champions on the brink of qualifying for the knockout stage.

Young Barca pair Gavi and Pedri have caught the eye in midfield during the opening two fixtures, while Ferran Torres hit a brace against Costa Rica.

Laporta expressed his pride at their performances, with the Barcelona president believing Spain's positive displays are down to head coach Xavi's work at club level.

"I think it's fantastic. It gives pride for Barcelona to see how the national team is playing and how our players are doing," he told AS.

"[Spain head coach] Luis Enrique has been able to take on all the pressure, which is a way to relieve all the pressure on the players.

"He has been very brave betting on very young players who are falling in love with the world and it just so happens that most are from Barca.

"The good role of Luis Enrique's national team is also thanks to the good work that Xavi is doing in Barcelona, where there are the most players.

"For me, Spain, along with Brazil and France, are the big favourites of the tournament."

Spain face Japan in their final group match, where victory would confirm top spot.

Manuel Neuer expressed relief that Germany are "still alive" in the World Cup after they salvaged a 1-1 draw with Spain on Sunday.

Germany's hopes of reaching the round of 16 suffered a shock blow when they lost their first match against Japan.

Yet Costa Rica responded to a 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Spain by beating Japan 1-0 to leave all to play for in Group E's final games.

Alvaro Morata put Spain ahead in the battle between the Group E heavyweights at Al Bayt Stadium, but Germany's Niclas Fullkrug came off the bench to equalise and secure his team's first point.

In order to progress, Hansi Flick's Germany side must beat Costa Rica in their last group match on Thursday and hope Spain do them a favour against Japan.

Goalkeeper Neuer, who denied Dani Olmo an early goal when he palmed his shot against the crossbar, is just pleased Germany still have a chance of avoiding a second successive World Cup exit at the group stage.

"It was a tough match against a very good Spain side," said the Germany captain. "We took on the fight and didn't allow them many chances over the 90 minutes.

"Our defensive work was superb from front to back. Our compactness made it difficult for them to score a goal against us. Their goal was simply quality and very hard to defend against. Nevertheless, we continued to believe in ourselves.

"The main thing is that we're still alive. The thing we can have influence over is getting three points against Costa Rica."

Fullkrug only made his full international debut earlier this month and scored his first competitive goal for Germany in a cameo appearance after being given a late call-up to the squad.

The 29-year-old Werder Bremen striker said: "We were determined to get a result from the game, and it was very important for our confidence.

"We still have room for improvement. We don't need to get carried away, but we can go into the final game with hope that we can make it through."

Luis Enrique looked at the big picture after Spain were held to a draw with Germany, content with the fact La Roja head into their final World Cup Group E match as leaders.

Alvaro Morata's second-half goal had seemingly put Spain on course for a second win in as many group games, and victory would have secured their place in the last 16.

But Niclas Fullkrug equalised late on to earn Germany a point that will provide Die Nationalelf with a timely confidence boost, even if their destiny is essentially in Spain's hands.

While Spain enjoyed more of the ball on Sunday, Germany's chances amounted to a greater expected goals (xG) total of 1.1 compared to 0.57, suggesting Hansi Flick's side created the better opportunities.

Nevertheless, the reality is Spain remain in control of the group with four points, and although they might have been in even better shape after facing Germany, Luis Enrique has no qualms with their position.

"In theory this was the group of death," he told La 1. "If after the draw we'd been told that after the first two matches we'd be the leaders of the group and we depend only on ourselves, I would have signed for that."

Adding in his post-match press conference, he said: "A draw against Japan is enough, but we're not going to speculate.

"Yes, it's a pity, the result, but we have to be happy because we are leaders in this group of death.

"When the draw came out everyone was mesmerised by the quality, it was the group that drew gasps.

"This is such a short competition that wanting to speculate on a game makes no sense. We will look for the best option in terms of the starting 11.

"An all-or-nothing competition begins now. This is our reality now and our goal is to go through as first in the group.

"Germany has to think about beating Costa Rica, which is a great team. You can be sure that we are going play Japan to win."

Frustration was seemingly the overwhelming emotion among the players.

But Luis Enrique felt Germany were deserving of a point, even though he also reckoned Spain wasted the opportunity to finish them off before Fullkrug struck his equaliser.

"Yes, that's the feeling I got from players, they're a bit disappointed," he continued. "[But] we could have been defeated, too… [the draw] is fair I'd say.

"We could have won, we could have got a decisive goal. Maybe that play with [Marco] Asensio at 1-0, he took the shot, it would have been decisive but it went over.

"Germany is a football force. We can't rule them out for the winning the World Cup, but we put up a fight."

Spain face Japan on Thursday knowing victory will confirm top spot, while Germany go up against Costa Rica at the same time as they hope to climb from bottom into a qualification berth.

Hansi Flick praised Germany's mentality and remains upbeat despite their World Cup destiny no longer being in their hands after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Spain.

Niclas Fullkrug cancelled out Alvaro Morata's earlier effort to earn a point but, following the 2-1 defeat by Japan, the four-time champions have failed to win their opening two matches at the finals for the first time.

Die Nationalmannschaft must beat Costa Rica in their final Group E match to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16, while hoping the Samurai Blue fail to beat La Roja in the other showdown.

Addressing the media during his post-match conference: Flick said: "The team maintained a great level. I am very satisfied with the mentality and the team's work today. This was a match on a high level.

"Those are things we want to see from this team, but this was only a first step. We want to see [more in the] next match and create the conditions to go through

"Spain are a great team with many young players, some experienced players, they're technically very refined. They started well, but we pushed against them.

"We were also able to defend well, we went in hard. But this is an opponent who plays so freely with great qualities, they are difficult to defend against, and we need to work on that and improve in defence.

"But what's important is the mentality was there. They showed they want to get points, create chances and that's what we did, that's why we're more than satisfied with the result."

Germany are aiming to avoid falling at the first hurdle in successive finals, having also crashed out in the group stages in Russia four years ago.

But Flick remains optimistic, and believes a repeat of the character demonstrated in the Spain draw will stand his side in good stead.

"In these matches, there are things to do better, but I am very upbeat," he added. "Maybe, this result will help us improve morale for the future. I liked the mentality of the team during the 90 minutes and that's what we have to show."

Alvaro Morata says there will be no complacency from Spain when they attempt to seal a place in the World Cup round of 16 against Japan after a 1-1 draw with Germany.

Morata came off the bench to score his second goal of the tournament to put La Roja in front at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, but substitute Niclas Fullkrug salvaged a point with a late equaliser for Germany.

Group E leaders Spain only need a point against Japan next Thursday to qualify, while Germany must beat Costa Rica and hope Luis Enrique's side can do them a favour.

All four teams can still qualify from the group following Costa Rica's 1-0 win over Japan, with Germany bottom following their shock 2-1 loss to the Samurai Blue on Wednesday.

Striker Morata stressed there is no chance Spain will take Japan lightly at Khalifa International Stadium.

"Japan is a tough team, they run a lot, they are good tactically. It's another tough game, it's a World Cup." he said.

The Atletico Madrid frontman says he has no problem with being among the substitutes again after also finding the back of the net in a 7-0 rout of Costa Rica.

"We are on the bench for this [to score]. Germany are a great team, this match could have been a semi-final or final in the World Cup," he said.

"It's the same [starting of being a substitute], the most important thing is to win. They scored an amazing goal, so we didn't have the victory, but we keep training and pushing with good vibes and positivity."

Morata has scored eight goals at European Championships and World Cups, at least double the amount of any other player for Spain since 2016.

 

Niclas Fullkrug came off the bench to salvage a first Qatar World Cup point for Germany as they held Spain to a 1-1 draw at Al Bayt Stadium.

Spain substitute Alvaro Morata opened the scoring in the second half of the clash between Group E heavyweights in Doha on Sunday.

Yet Fullkrug ensured Germany avoided back-to-back defeats after they were stunned by Japan in their opening match, equalising with seven minutes of regulation time to play.

The draw leaves Spain top, ahead of their final group game against Japan, with Germany needing to beat Costa Rica and hope La Roja do them a favour to have any chance of qualifying.

After suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to Japan on matchday one, Germany could ideally do with a swift and straightforward response.

Unfortunately for them, awaiting Die Nationalelf at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday will be a Spain side that remarkably won 7-0 against Costa Rica last time out.

Germany know defeat could doom them to a second successive group-stage elimination at the World Cup, an astonishing turn of events given that before 2018 they had not failed to get past the tournament's first round since 1938.

Another loss would consign Germany to three consecutive World Cup defeats for the first time ever – they have also never been beaten twice in the group stage of a single edition before.

The pressure is already on head coach Hansi Flick, who suggested one of his main objectives before Sunday's game is to ensure the team believes they can prevail.

"The team and every person can always develop," he said. "That's why the team still has potential, which it's not quite delivering at the moment.

"Nevertheless, I believe we have good quality. Yes, 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."

Regardless of Germany's belief, Flick's side can at least take solace in the fact they pretty much know how Spain will play – Luis Enrique is never secretive about his expectations for La Roja.

In their obliteration of Los Ticos, Spain recorded a possession figure of 81.9 per cent, setting a new record since Opta have this data available in the World Cup (from 1966), surpassing Argentina’s 80.3 per cent against Greece in 2010.

That was Spain's biggest ever World Cup victory and they also boast a strong recent record over Germany, having lost only one of their previous seven meetings.

Granted, Spain have only won their first two games of a World Cup three times and not since 2006, but Luis Enrique was adamant after the Costa Rica win that complacency will not be an issue.

 

This may be a young Spain squad, but they have long resembled an immensely unified unit under the guidance of Luis Enrique, who acts as a sort of pressure sponge, and Rodri believes their overall connection is their key strength.

"It's true we have been working very good for a long time, maybe on the results front," he said. "Nowadays in football there is great equality, but the performance was there [against Costa Rica], and it was good.

"The sensations were great, the team is whole in every line, defensively and offensively the team worked like an accordion.

"The goals for me were a consequence of our play, and what I liked more about the other day is that we know that the collective is what will bring us success.

"That is why everyone was remarkable, everyone had a great contribution, and everyone respected his position and his role."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Spain – Pedri

He was withdrawn before the hour mark against Costa Rica, but that was more than enough time to show just how integral Pedri is to how Spain play. He completed 97 per cent of his passes (86/89), but what made that even more impressive was the fact he was the fulcrum of La Roja's attacking play, with only Dani Olmo (33) attempting more passes in the final third than him (30).

Managing to maintain that accuracy in such a congested area of the pitch where he was expected to take risks was mightily impressive, and he even managed to tally a joint-high three key passes. Germany would be wise to pay him special attention.

 

Germany – Serge Gnabry

The defeat to Japan was a game to forget for Germany, but Gnabry did at least look lively. He managed six shots on matchday one, with three of them on target, and was very involved.

In fact, he played a part in 12 open-play sequences that ended a shot, with Kylian Mbappe (13) the only player to better him in that regard over the first round of matches at the tournament. He will need to do better in front of goal, but he clearly has the capacity to cause Spain problems.

 

PREDICTION

There is every chance this will be close.

Spain go into the game as the favourites with a 42.7 per cent chance of success, according to Stats Perform's AI model, but this means there is a 57.3 per cent likelihood of them failing to win.

That incorporates Germany's 31.9 per cent probability of emerging victorious, which also highlights how difficult this game is to call from the outset.

Argentina can recover from their woeful World Cup start and reach the knockout rounds, says Barcelona boss Xavi.

Lionel Scaloni's side were handed a shock defeat in Group C by Saudi Arabia in their opener, with Lionel Messi's first-half penalty cancelled out by goals from Saleh Al-Shehri and Salem Al-Dawsari.

With Mexico and Poland drawing their first match elsewhere, it has handed La Albiceleste an arduous, though not improbable, pathway beyond the opening stages of Qatar 2022.

But speaking for Adidas in Qatar, Xavi, who was a member of the Spain squad that lost their opener at South Africa 2010 before rallying to win the tournament, believes they have what it takes to turn matters around.

"I know [how it feels], because it happened to us in 2010 in South Africa," he stated, in reference to his own defeat a dozen years ago to Switzerland. "It is a very difficult moment.

"[There is] more tension, more pressure, but I think they have everything. They have the capacity to come back, to win against Mexico and beat Poland.

"I believe a lot in Leo, in the Argentina squad, in Scaloni. They have the capacity to get six points and qualify for the next round, sure."

Argentina will be bidding to avoid a first group stage exit since Korea/Japan 2002, the only time they have failed to reach the knockout rounds in the expanded 32-team format era.

They face Mexico on Saturday in Lusail, before wrapping up their Group C campaign against Poland in Doha on November 30.

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