9 min Pedri caresses a short pass into Asensio, who drags a first-time shot just wide from about 15 yards. He didn’t hit it properly but it almost sneaked in the corner.
8 min “So – the great survivor, Sergio Busquets, makes it to his, what is it?” says Charles Antaki. “Surely in the hundred plus of international games. Congrats to him of course, an astounding talent; but it shows up a dearth of that kind of midfielder in Spain. Perhaps he is, as he always seems to be, just unique.”
I think it’s his 140th cap. They do have a good replacement, provided they can find someone to replace him at centre-back.
7 min As expected, it’s like a training exercise: Spanish attack against Costa Rican defence.
5 min: Great chance for Olmo! Spain should be ahead. Pedri, 35 yards from goal in the inside-left channel, floated a glorious pass over the defence to find Olmo on the right edge of the six-yard box. He cushioned a volley across Navas and a few yards wide of the far post. He may have seen it late as it dropped over the defender’s head, but it was still a terrific chance.
2 min Costa Rica are actually playing their usual 4-4-2, not the 5-4-1 that we assumed when we saw five defenders in the line up. It looks like Keysher Fuller is actually playing on the right-hand side of midfield.
Costa Rica (4-4-2) Navas; Martinez, Duarte, Calvo, Oviedo; Fuller, Borges, Tejeda, Bennette; Campbell, Contreras.
Marco Asensio is the false nine for Spain.
2 min “As a Rams fan of a certain vintage it’s difficult not to feel that Costa Rica aren’t quite as much fun now Paolo Wanchope has hung up his boots,” says David Hopkins. “Say, is that enough to justify posting a video of that goal at Old Trafford? You know you want to really.”
Oh go on then.
Now that’s what I call banter.
1 min Peep peep!
The captains, Sergio Busquets and Keylor Navas, say hello in the centre-circle. I forgot to mention that Gavi is about to break Cesc Fabregas’s record and become Spain’s youngest-ever World Cup player. You barely notice such things, because he’s a 28-year-old footballer in an 18-year-old’s body.
“I also am using Guardian commentary as my Mandarin isn’t up to much!” writes Alexandra Fullerton. “Can’t wait, nailbiting stuff. Vamos La Sele! Pura Vida!!!!”
Not to put a downer on the whole thing, but
we’re all going to die one day if Spain don’t win then their game against Germany will be close to an eliminator.
Enough chit-chat: the players are on the field, the fans are cheering themselves on the big screen, and it’s time for game two in el grupo de la muerte.
“Wait, you mean Joel Campbell is a real player?” sniffs Matt Dony. “I’d always assumed he was invented by Arsenal as some kind of benefits fraud or tax dodge that I didn’t fully understand.”
Did you holiday in the Kerguelen Islands in June 2014?
“Pedant alert that you are free to ignore: San Jose, Costa Rica is in the same time zone as Chicago, where the game will kick off at 10am.” writes Matt Burtz. “I believe you might have listed the time for San Jose, California. Too many cities named San Jose!”
They literally all look the same, especially when you do a half-arsed Google search while simultaneously trying to work out who’s playing as the right-sided centre-back for Costa Rica. God bless ADHD.
One word is used more than any other to describe Spain’s football. It’s fair to assume Luis Enrique wasn’t a Menswe@r fan.
“First time emailer long time reader,” writes Aaron in Nashville. “You’re the funny Beatle of all the MBMers, so you’re my subtitler as I watch the game in Spanish. Because let’s face it, football is just more exciting in Spanish.”
I think that’s a compliment, my first of the decade, so thank you! Wait, what?
Germany 1-2 Japan
Jamie Jackson had the abundant pleasure of being at the Khalifa International Stadium today. Here’s his report.
Luis Fernandez Suarez is about to coach his third team at a World Cup: Ecuador 2006, Honduras 2014 and now Costa Rica.
Swot up, there’ll be a spot test before the game
The first game in the group of death was a cracker: Japan came from behind to win 2-1, and Germany are off Argentina in the last-chance saloon. Already. The great Scott Murray was watching.
Rodri starts at centre-back for Spain, with either Ferran Torres or Marco Asensio as a false nine.
Costa Rica’s team includes Sunderland’s exciting teenager Jewison Bennette, as well as a few more familiar World Cup faces: Keylor Navas, Joel Campbell, Celso Borges and the rest.
Spain (4-1-2-3) Simon; Azpilicueta, Rodri, Laporte, Albi; Busquets; Gavi, Pedri; Torres, Asensio, Olmo.
Substitutes: Balde, Carvajal, Fati, Eric Garcia, Guillamon, Koke, Llorente, Morata, Pino, Raya, Sanchez, Sarabia, Soler, Torres, Williams.
Costa Rica (possible 5-4-1) Navas; Martinez, Fuller, Duarte, Calvo, Oviedo; Campbell, Borges, Tejeda, Bennette; Contreras.
Substitutes: Alvarado, Chacon, Hernandez, Lopez, Matarrita, Ruiz, Salas, Sequeira, Torres, Vargas, Venegas, Waston, Wilson, Zamora.
Referee Mohammed Abdulla (UAE)
GET OUT OF MY SIGHT AND CLICK THIS LINK RIGHT NOW
Manchester City’s Rodri, who starts in defence today, also spoke to Our Sid
Sid Lowe’s interviews are consistently terrific. Here he chats with Unai Simon, Spain’s highwire goalkeeper.
For most teams, the opening game of a World Cup is frequently a cagey, forgettable affair. Just ask Denmark, Tunisia, Morocco, Croatia, Mexico and Poland. The Spanish national team do things differently; of course they do. In the modern era they have started their World Cup campaign with all kinds of memorable games: belters (Nigeria 98, Portugal 18), stunning defeats (Nigeria 98, Switzerland 10, Netherlands 14), spectacular false dawns (Ukraine 06), late twists (South Korea 94, Nigeria 98 yetabloodygain) controversial defeats (Brazil 86) – and, ok, a couple of cagey, forgettable affairs (Honduras 82, Uruguay 90, and yes Ruben Sosa’s penalty does still occasionally pop up on air traffic control maps).
What will it be today? It’s tempting to expect a comfortable win, like against Slovenia in 2002, although we’ve made that mistake before. It’s probably safer to dwell on Spain’s style than their substance. They’re a unique team, fearless tightrope walkers who keep the ball better than anyone in the world. But they also – drink! – lack a reliable goalscorer.
Alvaro Morata’s record is better than you might think, 27 in 57 games (which includes 15 appearances as substitute) – but, genuinely brilliant though he can be, I doubt even he would describe himself as ‘reliable’. And there’s a fair chance he won’t start today anyway.
Morata scored the late goal against Sweden that clinched Spain’s place in Qatar. It was reasonably fraught – they had to draw that last game in Seville, mainly because of a slow start in the group – but they are legitimately one of the favourites to win the competition. Since you asked, they’re my tip, and I have gambled responsibly by placing £0.00 on them. They were arguably the best team at Euro 2020, where they lost to Italy on penalties in the semi-finals, and anyone who beats them will have to do a lot of work without the ball.
Costa Rica recovered from an even worse start to qualify via a playoff against New Zealand. Since taking over last year, their charismatic Colombian coach Luis Fernando Suarez has used – and you’ll like this – 77 players, including 22 debutants. But he has developed a team with an interesting age profile, from 35-year-old Keylor Navas to the 18-year-old Jewison Bennette, who are strong defensively and fancy their chances even in such a tough group.
And why not. The last time Costa Rica were in a group of death, with Italy, Uruguay and England in 2014, they won the bloody thing and were a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the semi-finals.
Kick off 4pm GMT, 5pm in Madrid,
810am in San Jose, 7pm in Doha.