Kickoff: November 23, 9:30 PM IST
Venue: Al Thumama Stadium
Spain begin the quest for their second World Cup glory when they take on Costa Rica on Wednesday.
The North American do not have such lofty ambitions in the tournament, but they will be encouraged knowing that they have played in the last eight more recently than the mighty La Roja.
After going all the way in 2010, Spain have experienced two disappointing World Cup campaigns.
They could not cross the group stage threshold in 2014, and in 2018, their mission ended with a round of 16 defeat to hosts Russia.
Can they do better in Qatar?
Spain’s performance under Luis Enrique has been inspiring. They made it to the last four in Euro 2020, finished runner-ups in the UEFA Nations League 2020/21, and topped their UEFA Nations League in the current season ahead of Portugal, the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.
Spain picked up a 3-1 win over Jordan last week in their final warm-up match before the World Cup finals.
It was Spain’s first match since they celebrated a 1-0 away win over Portugal in the UEFA Nations League at Estádio Municipal de Braga in late September.
Costa Rica will try to emulate their success in the 2014 World Cup when they qualified for the quarterfinals and went out on penalties against the Netherlands. It was El Tico’s best World Cup performance since they debuted in the competition in 1990.
Things did not go so smoothly in Russia as they failed to get out of a group consisting of Switzerland, Brazil, and Serbia. But Luis Fernando Suarez’s men have enough reasons to feel optimistic before they face Spain on the pitch.
Costa Rica cruised to a 2-0 win over Nigeria on November 11.
They have lost only once in their last 13 matches. The team spirit has been high since they clinched the final available spot in the World Cup by beating New Zealand in the intercontinental playoffs.
Barcelona youngster Alejandro Balde joined the Spain squad to replace Valencia left-back José Gayà, who was dropped from the squad after he suffered an ankle injury.
Ansu Fati and Ferran Torres will be the supporting cast in Spain’s attack, which will be led by Álvaro Morata.
Enrique is expected to opt for an all-Barcelona midfield with Pedri, Gavi, and Sergio Busquets.
Pau Torres and Aymeric Laporte will be the centre-back pairing. El Clásico rivals Jordi Alba and Dani Carvajal will take up the fullback positions and Unai Simón will be on goal.
World Cup 2014 hero Keylor Navas will stand between the sticks for Costa Rica.
Francisco Calvo, Óscar Duarte, Carlos Martinez, and Bryan Oviedo will form the defensive cover in front of the former Real Madrid shot-stopper.
Celso Borges will return as Fernando Suarez’s midfield centerpiece. Herediano frontman Anthony Contreras will lead the line, supported by Joel Campbell.
Costa Rica can be a tough team to break down for Spain, but they should eventually pick the locks of the Costa Rica defence because of the agility and skill of their forwards.
This could be a 1-0 win for Spain.