Japan's group at the upcoming soccer World Cup is shaping up to be among the tournament's most exciting first-stage contests, with two heavyweights of the sport in Germany and Spain under pressure to advance.

Costa Rica and the Samurai Blue are both heavy underdogs to emerge from the quartet and will create a shockwave across the tournament should either succeed.

Below is a primer on each team in the group ahead of the first match between Japan and Germany, which will be played in Qatar on Nov. 23.



World Cup appearance -- 7th

Best finish -- Round of 16 three times: 2002, 2010, 2018

Head coach -- Hajime Moriyasu, since 2018

Player to watch -- Kaoru Mitoma

Moriyasu has overseen a period of transition for Japan and his squad for the 2022 tournament is full of young and relatively inexperienced players, particularly in attack and midfield.

With such a youth movement up front, he is banking on players like captain Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatomo to bring solidity and experience from defense. With the vast majority of players in the squad plying their trade in Europe, this Japan team has a level of quality that rivals any that preceded it, but questions remain about the lack of a big-name standout who can lift the team through adversity.

Brighton winger Kaoru Mitoma jumps for joy after scoring a goal in the late half in an EFL Cup match against Arsenal at Emirates Stadium in London on Nov. 9, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

One player who has shown he may have the potential to take that role is Mitoma. The Brighton & Hove Albion winger scored two goals off the bench against Australia to clinch qualification and then went on to prove a dynamic difference-maker in his first season in the Premier League.

He also has the advantage of being somewhat unknown on the world stage, with just nine caps to his name, giving Moriyasu a weapon against which opponents may not be prepared.



World Cup appearance -- 20th

Best finish -- Winners four times: 1954, 1974, 1990, 2014

Head coach -- Hansi Flick, since 2021

Player to watch -- Kai Havertz

After crashing out of the 2018 World Cup in a spectacular group-stage flop, Germany arrive in the Middle East looking to reinstate themselves at football's pinnacle.

A near-flawless nine-win, one-loss qualification campaign demonstrates that Flick, who took over from the long-serving manager Joachim Loew, has the team on track, despite some uninspiring Nations League performances this year.

The 2022 iteration of Die Mannschaft is composed of mostly Bundesliga talent, with Bayern Munich providing a sturdy backbone of players who carried the German super club to a Champions League title under Flick in 2020.

Kai Havertz of Germany is pictured during an international friendly match between Germany and Oman in Muscat on Nov. 16, 2022. (Getty/Kyodo)

In looking for a possible weakness, doubters have pointed to the defense as a concern. With attacking talent like Havertz, the defense may not be called upon as a deciding factor in the outcome of the group.

The 23-year-old Chelsea star looks set to be a central figure in Germany's forward forays, with the technically gifted No. 10 able to get the best out of his high-profile teammates.



World cup appearances -- 16

Best finish -- Winners once: 2010

Head coach -- Luis Enrique since 2018

Player to watch -- Pedri

Enrique's refusal to make compromises in his style of play has created a team that puts the collective far above the individual. Gone is the golden generation that carried Spain to the 2010 title, with a few of those big names subsequently popping up in the J-League, but a new crop of talent has emerged.

Much like Japan, La Roja has traditionally played a highly technical game that relies on superior passing skill to overcome shortcomings in physicality.

Japan's Takefusa Kubo (7) and Spain's Pedri vie for the ball during the first half of a men's football semifinal at the Tokyo Olympics on Aug. 3, 2021, at Saitama Stadium near Tokyo. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Unlike Japan, however, Spain has shown it can perform under the brightest of lights, with a semifinal appearance at the 2020 European Championships and a runner-up finish in last year's Nations League testament to this group's abilities.

One of the team's young faces tipped to have a breakout tournament is Pedri. Only 19 years old at the start of the World Cup, the central midfielder can take credit for a good amount of Barcelona's success this season and may be the name people remember from Spain's campaign.


Costa Rica

World Cup appearances -- 6

Best finish -- Quarterfinals: 2014

Head coach -- Luis Fernando Suarez, since 2021

Player to watch -- Keylor Navas

Costa Rica became the final team to qualify for the 2022 tournament when they defeated New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in June.Joel Campbell scored the lone goal in the game to put the Central Americans into their third straight World Cup.

Since taking charge, Suarez has overseen a run to the Gold Cup quarterfinals, where Costa Rica were beaten by Canada.

They then embarked on a World Cup qualifying campaign that included important victories over the United States and Canada that helped Los Ticos shake off a slow start.

Keylor Navas (3rd from R) and his Costa Rica teammates celebrate after securing the last spot for the 2022 football World Cup finals with a 1-0 win over New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff in Al Rayyan, Qatar, on June 14, 2022. (Kyodo)

They have already proven they can survive a "group of death," too, having done so in 2014 when they finished above Uruguay, England and Italy to advance.

Unlike the rest of their Group E opponents, Costa Rica do not have a large Europe-based contingent. Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Navas is among the few exceptions. The 35-year-old was for a long-time the first-choice in goal for the French giant, but injuries this season have seen him lose his place and cast a cloud over his World Cup readiness.

Related coverage:

Football: World Cup 2022 team analysis

Football: Japan lose 2-1 to Canada in last friendly before World Cup

Football: Profiles of Japan's squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar