After a poor start to its World Cup campaign, Germany is now staring down the barrel of elimination heading into its last Group E game at Qatar 2022.
Its shock defeat to Japan on the opening day put the Germans in a difficult position, but it rallied in its second game against Spain to earn a hard-fought draw.
It means the 2014 world champion, which sits bottom of the group on one point, now needs to beat Costa Rica on Thursday and hope Spain beats Japan in order to progress into the knockout stages of the competition.
A draw in the group’s other game could be enough for Germany but its fate would then depend on goal difference.
Speaking after the vital draw against Spain, Germany manager Hansi Flick said he hoped his team would gather some confidence for the crunch match at the Al Bayt Stadium after a more positive performance against Spain.
“Maybe it is the spark we need,” Flick said. “The team fought hard and I am very satisfied with their mentality. These are the things we want and we know that we did take the first step.
“We want to have the conditions against Costa Rica to reach the knockout phase.”
Group leader Spain, meanwhile, needs just a point against Japan to ensure progression into the round of 16 – it can even afford to lose the match depending on what happens in Germany’s game with Costa Rica.
Spain coach Luis Enrique is determined for his side to enjoy their experience in Qatar and has defended his streaming sessions online in which he talks to fans.
“The only goal I set for my players … before this training camp 16 days ago, I told them we need to have fun, fun,” he told reporters.
“We need to enjoy this because you have to have joy in your job.”
It’s a philosophy that seems to be working; with Spain’s young side producing impressive displays on the world stage.
For Japan, which stunned Germany in its first game, it now needs to produce another surprise by beating Spain after losing to Costa Rica in its last match.
“Tomorrow is going to be a high-pressure game for all players but we must believe in ourselves,” Japan manager Hajime Moriyasu told reporters on Wednesday.
“They must believe in themselves, they must. They must believe in their team mates in order to fight against our opponent. Hopefully, they will be at their best and the result will follow.”
Morocco bid to upset Belgium and Croatia
Meanwhile, for three teams in Group F, it’s all to play for on Thursday.
Belgium, Croatia and Morocco can all still qualify for the knockout rounds in what promises to be a fascinating round of matches.
Belgium and Croatia will play each other, while Morocco faces Canada – which is already out of the tournament.
Many Moroccans will still be recovering from an emotional victor against Belgium on Sunday, in what was the country’s first World Cup win since 1998 – and its third ever.
“If we get through to the knockout stage, I think we will be very dangerous going forward,” Moroccan manager Walid Regragui told reporters earlier this week.
Anything other than a place in the round of 16 will be a major disappointment for both Belgium and Croatia.
The latter was the defeated finalist in 2018 and needs just a draw against Belgium to ensure progression through the group.
But coach Zlatko Dalic says he refuses to entertain playing for anything but a win.
“We must not accept the option of having only one point to end the match with Belgium,” he told reporters.
“There are no easy games. Belgium need a win but we will also aim for a win.”
Belgium, meanwhile, has struggled to find its feet in the tournament so far.
It was largely outplayed despite beating Canada its opening game and suffered a confidence-knocking defeat to Morocco the last time out.
However, coach Roberto Martinez says his team will be ready for the showdown and hopes his star players, such as Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, can turn its fortunes around.
“We have to stay together now and become stronger. I know this group, we will be ready for Croatia,” he told reporters.
“We haven’t been the best Belgium at this World Cup yet.”
Croatia vs. Belgium: 10am ET
Canada vs. Morocco: 10am ET
Japan vs. Spain: 2pm ET
Costa Rica vs. Germany: 2pm ET
How to watch
US: Fox Sports
UK: BBC or ITV
Germany: ARD, ZDF, Deutsche Telekom
Canada: Bell Media
South Africa: SABC