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World Cup preview: Everything you need to know about Group E

With the 2022 World Cup just days away, we’re taking a deep dive into all eight groups, highlighting the star players to watch, examining the biggest storylines to follow, and offering some predictions for how things may play out. Here’s everything you need to know about Group E, which features Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, and Japan.

Group schedule ?

Spain ??

  • Manager: Luis Enrique
  • Nickname: La Roja
  • FIFA ranking: 7
  • Best World Cup finish: Champion (2010)
  • Betting odds: +800

Player to watch

Pedri. Unusual as it may be for a team with the pedigree and overall talent of Spain, it’s difficult to identify one standout superstar. That’s by design for manager Luis Enrique, who values the collective over all else. Players are selected based on their ability to fit his preferred 4-3-3 system and tactical plan, not the other way around. Luckily, the Spaniards have a 19-year-old midfielder who can flourish in any role and meet the demands of any coach. Pedri, in a word, is a breathtaking footballer, and he has the poise and vision that belie his youth. He’s already vital for Spain and Barcelona at the heart of midfield, keeping both sides ticking with his technique and passing. He’s a special talent who has the composure to handle the biggest stage.

Projected starting XI (4-3-3)

Simon; Alba, Laporte, P. Torres, Carvajal; Gavi, Busquets, Pedri; F. Torres, Morata, Olmo

Enrique’s playing style is non-negotiable. The task for his players, then, is simple. Adapt to the scheme or watch from the bench. Or from home. The 52-year-old is unyielding and believes his singular way of playing is the best way to win. In fairness, he’s often been right. La Roja will dominate the ball and probe for openings, press high up the pitch, and be aggressive for 90 minutes, even if it leaves spaces at the back. Those principles won’t change. “We do not want to play deep. We always want to be in our opponents’ half and take risks,” Enrique said of his approach. “In defense, we want to take the ball off our opponents as quickly as possible. When I am looking for players for the national team, I pick the ones (who) are best at interpreting our tactics.”

Key question

Can the full-backs provide the energy needed to make Enrique’s system function properly? Executing a successful high press requires several elements working in harmony, including indefatigable players on the flanks who can get up and down the pitch all game. Dani Carvajal (30) and Jordi Alba (33) were both excellent at their peaks but may not have the legs anymore. Cesar Azpilicueta, meanwhile, is probably the least mobile of the three. That puts a lot of stress on the central defenders to cover large amounts of open space, and Spain’s center-backs aren’t totally convincing.

Then there’s the opposite end of the field, where the lack of an established, consistent goalscorer looms large. Alvaro Morata will likely continue in the starting role, assuming he recovers from a recent injury. However, he’s long lacked conviction up front when tasked with being the primary scoring threat. The football remains lovely to watch, but this team is likely too flawed to replicate the success of the dominant generation that won three consecutive major tournaments from 2008-12.

Costa Rica ??

  • Manager: Luis Fernando Suarez
  • Nickname: Los Ticos
  • FIFA ranking: 31
  • Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (2014)
  • Betting odds: +75000

Player to watch

Keylor Navas. Now 35, the Paris Saint-Germain netminder remains the influential leader and star performer for Los Ticos. The team arguably wouldn’t even be at this World Cup if it weren’t for its talisman. Navas was spectacular in the latter stages of CONCACAF qualifying, where Costa Rica surged up the standings with six wins from its final seven games. He also played well in the intercontinental playoff win over New Zealand that ultimately got the team to Qatar. Navas isn’t getting many opportunities at the club level right now – Gianluigi Donnarumma has started every league match for PSG this season – but he always seems to deliver for his country. Backstopping a team that doesn’t score many goals, he’ll once again be crucial to Costa Rica’s chances of pulling off any upsets.

Projected starting XI (4-5-1)

Navas; Oviedo, Duarte, Calvo, C. Martinez; Bennette, Torres, Borges, Tejeda, Campbell; Contreras

Luis Fernando Suarez, who has crafted a nomadic coaching career, made sweeping changes to the Costa Rican setup when he arrived in 2021, trying to revamp the team by giving debuts to 22 players over a hectic 15-month spell. Due in part to that rapid upheaval, the Colombian manager’s tenure got off to a rocky start. But he eventually righted the ship in qualifying, as Costa Rica rediscovered the stingy defense that has long been the team’s hallmark. Los Ticos don’t score often – they notched just 13 goals in 14 Hexagonal qualifiers – but concede even fewer thanks to Navas and an established center-back pairing of Francisco Calvo and Oscar Duarte. A fastidious line of five midfielders in front of the defense helps create solidity.

Key question

Will Costa Rica feel right at home in this group? Navas and Co. will unquestionably be huge underdogs against Spain and Germany, and Japan will also be favored when the two sides meet. That could play to Costa Rica’s strengths. Los Ticos can sit in their low block with multiple banks of defenders, frustrate the opposition into attempting low-quality shots, and look to hit on the break with exciting teenage winger Jewison Bennette and veteran Joel Campbell in support of speedy forward Anthony Contreras.

Getting out of this group may be too tall an order. But, then again, that’s exactly what everybody said when Costa Rica went up against England, Italy, and Uruguay in 2014 and topped the quartet.

Germany ??

  • Manager: Hansi Flick
  • Nickname: Nationalelf
  • FIFA ranking: 11
  • Best World Cup finish: Four-time champion (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)
  • Betting odds: +1000

Player to watch

Jamal Musiala. Though there’s a general sense of malaise around this Germany team right now, it’s still loaded with skill, especially up front. Kai Havertz, Leroy Sane, Serge Gnabry, and, of course, veteran stalwart Thomas Muller are all capable of the sublime at any moment. But the most exciting of Hansi Flick’s charges is Musiala, the 19-year-old who has everyone at Bayern Munich waxing lyrical. And for good reason. The versatile forward, comfortable playing several different positions, is the youngest player ever to record 100 appearances for Bayern. Musiala has taken his game to another level this season, scoring nine goals and delivering six assists in just 15 Bundesliga matches. Lively and intelligent, his finishing ability will be key for a team that won’t use a natural No. 9 – at least not to start matches – in Qatar.

Projected starting XI (4-2-3-1)

Neuer; Raum, Rudiger, Sule, Kehrer; Goretzka, Kimmich; Sane, Muller, Musiala; Havertz

Under Hansi Flick, Germany looks to dictate possession and play a more aesthetically pleasing brand of football than in previous years. Flick certainly has the squad to accomplish exactly that. However, Germany has yet to show consistency during his reign, often drifting in and out of games and relying too much on a moment of individual quality to procure results. The manic 3-3 friendly draw with England earlier this year was a microcosm of the team’s ongoing issues. Havertz scored a stunning goal in the match, and the team produced bright passages of play, but there was also defensive vulnerability and large portions where the Germans couldn’t control proceedings. If they put it all together, another World Cup title could be on the horizon.

Key question

Can Havertz adequately lead the line? The same question would have been asked of Timo Werner before an ill-timed ankle injury ruled him out of the tournament. While his absence almost certainly removes any debate over who will start up front for Flick, it doesn’t address the suitability of his top choices to operate as the de facto striker. Havertz, 23, has some of the skills necessary to thrive playing the central striker role. But the angular left-footer is more comfortable and looks more natural playing in the hole just behind, where he can float around, find space, and orchestrate moves instead of consistently being asked to finish them.

Goals will need to come from everywhere if Germany is to reverse its recent trend of faltering at major tournaments and reestablish its reputation as a “Turniermannschaft” – a tournament team – that thrives on the biggest stage. A repeat of the humbling group-stage exit four years ago would be an unmitigated disaster.

Japan ??

  • Manager: Hajime Moriyasu
  • Nickname: Samurai Blue
  • FIFA ranking: 24
  • Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 (2002, 2010, and 2018)
  • Betting odds: +25000

Player to watch

Daichi Kamada. One of the top scorers in the Bundesliga this season, the Eintracht Frankfurt star has notched 12 goals in 20 matches across all competitions this campaign. That tally is even more impressive considering he plays primarily in midfield for the German outfit. He’ll need to carry that fine form to Qatar. Hajime Moriyasu could ask him to be the central forward and main scoring threat amid a dearth of other options at the position. Strikers Daizen Maeda and Kyogo Furuhashi failed to impress during the September friendly window, with the latter subsequently being left out of the World Cup squad entirely. A lot is riding on Kamada’s ability to translate his club form to the national team.

Projected starting XI (4-2-3-1)

Gonda; Nagatomo, Tomiyasu, Yoshida, Sakai; Endo, Morita; Kubo, Kamada, Ito; Maeda

Look for Japan to rely heavily on Junya Ito. The lightning-quick Reims winger’s pace has been a constant outlet for the Samurai Blue since Moriyasu selected him immediately upon taking the job in 2018. Japan has technical quality across the pitch, but Ito’s blistering speed on the counter will be key for beating Spain and Germany, two teams that try to monopolize possession. A former defensive midfielder who made 35 appearances for the national side, Moriyasu has faced criticism from fans in Japan, especially for his team selection. He’s consistently received support from the country’s football federation, but a poor showing in Qatar could see that tune change.

Key question

Will this be unlucky No. 7 for Japan? The Asian nation is making its seventh consecutive World Cup appearance, but an unkind draw has tempered expectations. Advancing out of Group E will almost certainly take at least one win over Germany or Spain. That’s a very tall order, even if the current vintage of both those teams isn’t on par with previous versions.

Moriyasu has done an admirable – and important – job in bringing forward a new generation of players to form the core of Japan’s team. The task of taking that group to the next level may fall to his successor, depending on how things go in Qatar.

Predictions ?

Chalk? According to Opta, Spain and Germany each have better than an 80% chance of advancing from Group E. In any other group, Japan would fancy its chances of reaching the knockout stage and perhaps causing an upset once there – the Japanese were agonizingly close to shocking Belgium just four years ago, remember. But it’s hard to pick against the two European powerhouses here.

  1. Spain
  2. Germany
  3. Japan
  4. Costa Rica

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Key thoughts and analysis from Tuesday's Champions League action

The Champions League last 16 rumbles on this week, as the first four quarterfinalists are being decided. Below, we dissect the biggest talking points from Tuesday’s action in Europe’s premier club competition.

Chelsea finally find their confidence

For the first half hour of Chelsea’s pivotal Champions League clash against Borussia Dortmund, scoring seemed like the most onerous task in the world. Raheem Sterling panicked when sent through on goal, dawdling when more confident strikers would do something – anything – to get the ball out from underneath them. Kai Havertz, who hadn’t scored in any of his last seven matches, struck the post, and the ball somehow skipped across the goal line and out of harm’s way. Chelsea created chances but couldn’t finish any of them.

Then something clicked. Sterling banged one home at what seemed like the 11th time of asking, lifting the heaviness around Stamford Bridge. Havertz retook the penalty he had missed, picking out the same bottom right corner he targeted with his first attempt.

In that half-hour stretch, Chelsea were a blur of motion. All they wanted to do was score. Even Marc Cucurella and Kalidou Koulibaly joined the rush. You could hardly tell this side from the one that toiled to get on the scoresheet in previous fixtures. If not for a couple of marginal offside calls, they’d have won 4-0.

Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

This was a long time coming. Chelsea hadn’t scored multiple goals in any match since Dec. 27. Injuries certainly played a part, but for the longest time, the west London side had no attacking impetus. The players didn’t create particularly much or defend particularly well.

But head coach Graham Potter stayed the course. He managed to keep spirits high in training – even while dealing with death threats sent to him and his family. You could tell his players were up for this game. Potter’s back three pressed high, choking Dortmund’s attack before it could really get going. Cucurella was particularly aggressive, playing the kind of defense-splitting passes few expected him to play from the left center-back position.

Chelsea could of course revert to their old habits over the coming games. But that flurry of action in the middle of the game promised better things to come.

Handball rule continues to divide

What exactly is a handball offense? The International Football Association Board, which issues the laws of the game, says a “deliberate” offense occurs when a player moves their hand or arm toward the ball. A player is also at fault if they make their body bigger when their hand or arm is in an unnatural position.

Neither of these things seemed absolutely, undoubtedly true when Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell struck Dortmund defender Marius Wolf’s hand just inside the penalty area. Wolf was turning away when the shot was taken, his head looking in the opposite direction, ruling out deliberate handball. His hand wasn’t necessarily in an unnatural position, either. The German full-back wasn’t flailing his arm or stretching it out to make his body bigger. He was turning away, and his arm was still reasonably close to his body. But because Chilwell shot a yard away, Wolf couldn’t pull his entire arm in time.

Ultimately, match official Danny Makkelie reviewed the footage on the pitchside monitor and determined enough was there to award a penalty. Was Wolf’s arm out? Yes, undoubtedly so, but the circumstances here created reasonable doubt. The original non-call was not, by definition, a clear and obvious error.

The biggest issue here is enforcement. ESPN’s de facto rules official, Dale Johnson, tweeted that “competitions differ” when these calls are made. “I doubt the VAR would give it in the Premier League,” Johnson added.

Former FIFA referee Manuel Grafe expressed frustration at the call as well, saying these interpretations cause a kind of “injustice.” Sometimes they’re given, and other times not.

Quick free-kicks

Chelsea’s Kepa earning his keep in goal

Kepa Arrizabalaga is redeeming himself one save at a time. It has been a strange and confusing year and a half for Chelsea’s beleaguered goalkeeper, who’s gone from afterthought to undisputed starter without fuss or fanfare. The club had no choice but to turn to Kepa once Edouard Mendy fractured his finger in January. But Mendy was losing his grip on the job before that. The world’s best goalkeeper in 2021 made a series of errors over the following year, and his confidence plummeted. Kepa stepped in and performed reasonably well as the rest of his teammates struggled and made two key saves Tuesday to keep Dortmund at bay when they threatened to take a foothold in the match. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper is in his second act as Chelsea’s No. 1, and it’s worth watching.

Injuries catch up to Dortmund

You can only overcome key injuries for so long. Eventually, they catch up to you. That’s not the sole reason Dortmund were beaten by Chelsea on Tuesday – the Blues, as outlined above, delivered their best performance in months – but, clearly, Dortmund’s list of absentees loomed large at Stamford Bridge. Missing Youssoufa Moukoko and Karim Adeyemi zapped Dortmund of any spark up front or ability to stretch the field and get behind the Chelsea backline. The latter, in particular, lit up the first leg with his spectacular solo goal. That type of gamebreaking ability was absent Tuesday as Dortmund were largely contained by Chelsea’s defense. Losing Julian Brandt in just the fifth minute to an apparent hamstring issue only compounded the matter; the creative German international was one of Dortmund’s best players during their now-snapped unbeaten run to start 2023. As a result, Sebastien Haller was mostly a non-factor in the match, touching the ball just once inside the Chelsea penalty area as Koulibaly neutralized his impact before he was taken off for the more mobile Donyell Malen in the 77th minute.

Benfica can beat anyone

Chris Brunskill/Fantasista / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Sleep on Benfica at your peril. Roger Schmidt’s team has been a bulldozer this season, the latest impressive outing coming in a 5-1 romp against Club Brugge that capped a dominant 7-1 aggregate triumph. As a result, the Portuguese giants are off to the Champions League quarterfinals for the second consecutive season. Benfica haven’t missed a beat since selling star midfielder Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea in January; Goncalo Ramos is establishing new records seemingly every time he steps on the pitch, Joao Mario has scored in five consecutive Champions League matches, and the machine that Schmidt has built just keeps chugging along. Benfica, eight points clear at the top of the table in Portugal, will fancy their chances of beating absolutely anybody in the next round, especially at the Estadio da Luz, where they’re unbeaten this season, having won 16 of 18 matches across all competitions.

Parker’s time almost up

Scott Parker has been an unmitigated disaster at Club Brugge. The Belgian side fired Carl Hoefkens in late December despite a stirring run to the Champions League knockout stages, citing poor domestic form as the reason behind the decision, and then made the surprising decision to appoint Parker as his replacement. They would surely like a mulligan right about now. The Englishman has won just two out of his 12 matches at the helm, with the 7-1 aggregate hammering against Benfica the latest humbling setback. Benfica have been steamrolling nearly everything in their path this season, but the meekness of Brugge’s performance Tuesday signified a team totally lacking in confidence right now. Parker’s squad has tumbled to fourth in the Belgian top flight, a whopping 21 points adrift of first place, and the brightest point of the season – the inspiring Champions League run – ended with a harsh thud. The former Fulham and Bournemouth manager may have already overseen his final match with the Belgian outfit.

Stat of the day

Decent company for Graham Potter.

Tweet of the day

It’s been a tough season for Parker all around.

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Report: USMNT's Reyna was almost sent home from Qatar over lack of effort

The mysterious lack of playing time for Giovanni Reyna was one of the major talking points before and after the United States men’s national team was knocked out of the 2022 World Cup.

Just over a week after the USMNT lost to the Netherlands in the round of 16, it’s been revealed that the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was nearly sent home during the tournament due to his alarming training performances, sources told The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio and Sam Stejskal.

The 20-year-old reportedly showed a lack of effort as the United States trained for its World Cup opening game against Wales in November. His perceived disinterest continued in a pre-tournament scrimmage when Reyna was reported to have walked around for the majority of his time on the field.

U.S. teammates, including DeAndre Yedlin and Aaron Long, addressed their concerns with Reyna after his disinterested body language continued in a post-Wales training session, The Athletic added. His teammates urged Reyna to change his attitude and involve himself more moving forward.

Reyna eventually addressed the situation during a video session when he apologized to teammates and coaches for his actions. The issue was thought to be resolved within the team after the apology, and Reyna returned to training as normal.

Gregg Berhalter seemingly referenced the situation during his appearance at the HOW Institute for Society’s Summit on Moral Leadership in New York last Tuesday.

Anadolu Agency / Anadolu Agency / Getty

“In this last World Cup, we had a player that was clearly not meeting expectations on and off the field,” the USMNT head coach said. “One of 26 players, so it stood out.

“As a staff, we sat together for hours deliberating what we were going to do with this player. We were ready to book a plane ticket home, that’s how extreme it was. And what it came down to was we’re going to have one more conversation with him, and part of the conversation was how we’re going to behave from here out. There aren’t going to be any more infractions.

“As a coach, the way you can deal with things most appropriately is going back to your values. Because it’s difficult to send a player home. It was going to be a massive controversy. You would have been reading about it for five days straight. But we were prepared to do it because he wasn’t meeting the standards of the group, and the group was prepared to do it as well.”

Reyna’s agent told The Athletic it was “disappointing” that the situation has been made public.

“Gio obviously did not have the experience anyone hoped for at the World Cup,” agent Dan Segal said. “The situation, relationships, and interactions among parties are far more complicated than what has been reported.

“It is disappointing and disrespectful for certain parties to be commenting on private team matters publicly, especially when some do so without full knowledge of the facts and others do so in a self-serving manner.”

Reyna finished the 2022 World Cup with two substitute appearances against England in the group stage and the Netherlands in the round of 16. The attacking midfielder has two goals in 10 Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund this season.

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Biggest winners and losers from wildest World Cup group stage ever

Everyone, take a breath. A most remarkable World Cup group stage came to an appropriately thrilling conclusion on Friday, as the knockout round was solidified following several days of non-stop drama. Below, we look back on the opening round of the tournament in Qatar by examining the biggest winners and losers from the past fortnight.

Winners: Plucky underdogs

Patrick Smith – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

Who had Australia, Japan, Morocco, and South Korea on their bingo card?

Few outsiders gave these underdog nations a chance, and not just because of their chequered form heading into the tournament. Each of them drew opponents ranked inside the top 15, giving them little hope of advancing from – let alone topping – their groups, but they each found their own inner strength. Australia beat Denmark, Japan upset Germany and Spain, Morocco ousted Belgium, and South Korea stunned Portugal with a goal in the 91st minute. Those wins set them on their way to the round of 16.

Each of them relied on a strong defensive foundation to make history and scored goals off counters and high-pressing moves. But Japan stood out most from the chasing pack. Drawing strength from his substitutes, coach Hajime Moriyasu made in-game tactical adjustments to help his side knock off its heavily favored opponents. Japan ended up winning the group, and the team now has a chance to continue its unexpected run against Croatia.

Loser: Qatar

Strictly on the pitch, Qatar entered the competition widely viewed as the worst host nation the World Cup had ever seen – and it proved to be so. The Qataris set several unfortunate benchmarks during their brief tournament debut, becoming the first host to lose its opening game and, eventually, finish the group stage without a point. Qatar, with three defeats and a minus-six goal differential, officially finished last of all 32 competing sides.

Myriad issues off the field, both before and during the event, created a dark cloud around this tournament. Organizers were hopeful the action on the pitch – and ideally, a surprise showing from Felix Sanchez’s team – would distract the world and change the conversation. It didn’t. Not in the slightest.

Winner: FIFA (as always)

Peter Bryne – PA Images / PA Images / Getty

The World Cup that banned alcohol inside stadiums turned out to be the drunkest tournament of all. You can’t make this up. Australia over Denmark. Poland hanging on by a thread in Group C. The absolute madness of Group E. South Korea’s last-gasp win that simultaneously created tears of joy for Heung Min-Son and despair for Luis Suarez and Uruguay. Nothing can match the drama of the World Cup, particularly during the final round of group matches when permutations are being scoured and fortunes are changing every minute with each goal. Anyone rooting for chaos was more than satisfied this week.

No matter what, we’re hooked. And FIFA knows it. Hopefully, football’s governing body realizes that the current format – with four-team groups – shouldn’t be tinkered with going into the expanded 2026 event. Asking FIFA to do the right thing may be a fool’s errand, but after seeing the unrivaled excitement this format generated over the past few days, surely Gianni Infantino and his cronies won’t ruin it. Right?

Losers: Belgium and Germany

Belgium, a rickety team very clearly on the decline coming into the World Cup, was always going to struggle, but few expected the Red Devils to be this bad. Roberto Martinez’s tenure – and the “Golden Generation” – came to an unceremonious end with a group-stage exit. Kevin De Bruyne wasn’t himself. Eden Hazard ran out of gas. Romelu Lukaku barely played. There were rumors of infighting and disharmony within the squad. Any way you slice it, Belgium’s ouster after scoring just once in three games was humbling.

Germany, on the other hand, can count itself somewhat unlucky. The Germans dominated against Japan but lost, tied Spain, and racked up four goals in a hectic victory over Costa Rica. And yet, Hansi Flick’s team still went home despite compiling the best expected goal difference of any side in the group stage. Undeserved? Possibly. But this is now the second consecutive World Cup in which Germany has fallen at the first hurdle. For a once-vaunted team, this was another sobering failure.

Winner: Marcus Rashford

Alex Livesey – Danehouse / Getty Images Sport / Getty

With three goals thus far, Rashford enters the knockout round as one of the World Cup’s top scorers. While his efforts may have come against beatable opponents in Iran and Wales, the 25-year-old can nonetheless count himself as one of England’s most important players in Qatar.

Rashford’s come a long way over the last 12 months. His campaign against child hunger won him plaudits off the pitch, but his form at Manchester United dropped significantly. He only played a bit role in England’s run to the Euro 2020 final, appearing mostly as a substitute, and faced racist abuse in the aftermath of his country’s defeat on penalties to Italy. Now, Rashford’s back to scoring goals, and given Harry Kane’s only struggles, that’s a very welcome development.

Loser: Gianni Infantino

FIFA president Infantino tried his best to defend Qatar, but he only made things worse. In his opening remarks, Infantino feigned sympathy for marginalized fans who felt unwelcome in Qatar and lashed out against the West over criticism of the host nation’s human rights transgressions. “Today, I feel gay,” the 52-year-old said in a flippant display that only inflamed tensions between FIFA and marginalized people. “This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” the Swiss added.

Infantino stood by as Qatar’s regime enforced a stadium ban on alcohol days before the start of the tournament, and FIFA then barred captains from wearing a rainbow-colored armband in support of the LGBTQ community. It all happened on Infantino’s watch. For a man who initially ran for president on a promise of “change,” he’s ensuring the governing body stays stagnant in its ways.

Winners: Ajax and PSV’s bank accounts

David Ramos – FIFA / FIFA / Getty

Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are laughing all the way to the bank right now. Their respective decisions not to sell Mohammed Kudus and Cody Gakpo are about to pay off – quite literally – very handsomely within the next six months. Both players were already in demand this past summer, with Premier League sides particularly expressing interest, but a move didn’t materialize. Now, on the back of standout showings at the World Cup, the Dutch and Ghanaian stars have both boosted their stock.

Gakpo is carrying the Netherlands’ attack, as the angular forward is tied for the tournament lead with three goals heading into the knockout stage. Kudus, meanwhile, provided a spark for the Black Stars. No player in Group H completed more take-ons or scored more goals than the 22-year-old. The price tag for both players is only going in one direction.

Loser: Denmark

Denmark built up a lot of goodwill after its run to the Euro 2020 semifinals, but it couldn’t justify its dark-horse status in Qatar. The team finished last in its group with just a single point and goal scored. Kasper Hjulmand’s team couldn’t produce any offense, making several uncharacteristic errors in the process. The Danes also missed an early opportunity to take three points against Tunisia, which ultimately set the tone for their disappointing group-stage exit.

Denmark could’ve afforded a loss to France but not Australia, which needed a shootout win over Peru in the intercontinental playoffs just to get to Qatar. The Danes managed only three shots on target against the Aussies and ultimately conceded the goal that eliminated them off an avoidable counterattack.

Winner: Alvaro Morata

Sebastian Frej/MB Media / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Morata often finds himself as the butt of jokes. Critics laugh at the scoring record of a player whose cost clubs an estimated €189 million in transfer fees and scoff at the number of times he strays offside. He’s never scored more than 15 times in a single league season, yet he’s played for some of the biggest teams in Europe.

However, he’s shown he’s indeed a quality striker during the World Cup. Morata came off the bench to score Spain’s only goal against Germany, and his header against Japan ended up being one of La Roja’s only worthwhile plays in an otherwise uninspiring 2-1 defeat on Wednesday.

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