Two previous World Cup winners, Spain and Germany, feature in Group E, while two underdogs, Costa Rica and Japan, will be looking to cause upset early on.
Japan have an excellent record of progressing, doing so on three of their six appearances at the World Cup since 1998. However, this time, it seems a huge ask for them.
A group-stage exit seems likely as they come up against European and world football heavyweights Spain and Germany. Costa Rica have an even more formidable job and will struggle massively to keep out their opponents.
The real jeopardy in this group comes in who will get the all-important top spot for the more comfortable round of 16 game. Spain are narrow favourites to do so, but recent performances have been shaky. Equally, Germany have struggled of late, winning just two of the eight games played in 2022. Nevertheless, both sides will hope for an upturn in form this winter in Qatar.
Group E Teams
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Must-have Qatar World Cup fantasy player from Group E
Ilkay Gundogan, MID ($7.5m)
The midfielder is the must-have player in this group. The Man City man was the joint top goalscorer in qualifying with five goals in eight games. The ever-present midfielder is also on penalties, which only boosts his appeal. At $7.5m, he’s a steal.
La Roja followed up their success in South Africa 2010 with underwhelming performances at back-to-back World Cups, first exiting at the group stages in Brazil before being knocked out by hosts Russia in 2018.
Spain remain in a transitional phase, with ageing stars being phased out for the likes of young, exciting talent with a big emphasis on creativity and ball-playing skills. Luis Enrique’s possession-based style reminds somewhat of a Man City or the Spanish team of the 2012 Euros, only now with inferior players.
Though an impressive semi-final finish in Euro 2020, beaten by eventual champions Italy, Spain often lacked penetration and cutting edge in the final third. This has continued to be a problem in qualifying and their Nations League campaign. However, when they do create chances, they tend to be high quality and hard to miss.
Best fantasy players from Spain
Alvaro Morata, FWD ($8m) ★★★★☆
27 goals in 57 games make Alvaro Morata Spain’s current top goalscorer by some distance. The oft-ridiculed journeyman has a habit of being wasteful in front of the goal but will always have chances.
Ferran Torres, FWD ($7m) ★★★★☆
Four goals in six matches is a decent return in any context. Ferran Torres was Spain’s top scorer in qualifying and seems their most likely route to goal.
Jordi Alba, DEF ($6m) ★★★☆☆
The Barcelona left-back had four assists in four qualifying games and a productive Euro 2020 campaign. The fullback offers returns at both ends of the pitch and is a shrewd selection at just $6m.
Differential/budget player from Spain
Ansu Fati, FWD ($7.5m)
At just 19 years old, this Barcelona wonderkid could provide Spain with the directness and penetration they need. His versatility could see him gain a place in the starting XI before long.
Die Mannschaft seems to have the opposite problem of Spain. They can score plenty but keeping them out of the other end is an issue, which has led them to an excessive amount of draws of late. This can be perfectly summed up in their most recent match against England, where they were 2-0 up and cruising before being rocked back to 3-2 down before coming up with a late equaliser.
The problem for Germany comes from central defence and the players’ suitability to play there. Antonio Rudiger prefers to play in a back three, while Hansi Flick persists with a 4-2-3-1.
Germany’s last two tournaments have been poor, to say the least. In 2018 they went out bottom of their group. In Euro 2020, they scraped through their group before losing to England in the round of 16. Flick’s men will be eager to make amends.
Best fantasy players from Germany
Ilkay Gundogan, MID ($7.5m) ★★★★★
Man City mainstay Ilkay Gundogan operates as a midfield general for Die Mannschaft. His late darting runs into the box and penalties provided him with five goals in qualifying. He’s a wildly underpriced asset at only $7.5m.
Serge Gnabry, FWD ($9m) ★★★★☆
Five goals in qualifying made Serge Gnabry joint top scorer in their group. The Bayern Munich winger is an elite finisher and always amongst the goals for club and country.
Leroy Sane, MID ($9.0m) ★★★★☆
Once of Man City now of Bayern Munich, Sane has been in good form this season with five goals and three assists in 12 league matches. Add that to his four goals two assists in nine qualifying games and he’s a good choice even at his lofty price.
Differential/budget player from Germany
Jamal Musiala, MID ($8m)
Another 19-year-old, Jamal Musiala, who switched allegiances from England to Germany, is a brilliant young talent. Playing as a No.10 or left winger, he scored one goal and got one assist in six qualifying games.
Japan also seem to have a bit of a goal-scoring problem. They netted just 12 times in the final round of qualifying in a group that included the likes of Oman, China and Vietnam.
Luckily, they have a sturdy defence with the centre-back pairing of Arsenal’s Takehiro Tomiyasu and Maya Yoshida, formerly of Southampton. Together they form a fearsome partnership for the Samurai Blue. In all qualifying, they kept 11 clean sheets in 18 games, never conceding more than one goal in a single game and not conceding one goal away from home!
However, a much more challenging test awaits the World Cup, coming up against the likes of Spain and Germany. But with what’s been said before about Spain’s attacking impetus, it would hardly be surprising if Japan held the Spanish to a draw.
Best fantasy players from Japan
Takumi Minamino, MID ($7m) ★★☆☆☆
Former Liverpool winger Takumi Minamino scored an impressive 10 goals in all 18 qualifying games for Japan. His positional awareness in the box, combined with finishing skills, make him a good pick at his price.
Takuma Asano, FWD ($5.5m) ★★☆☆☆
Three goals in qualifying for Asano make him the second most likely route to goal in this Japan team. The 27-year-old is the number 9 for his country and on penalties too.
Differential/budget player from Japan
Kaoru Mitoma, FWD ($5.5M)
Highly rated Brighton playmaker, Kaoru Mitoma has yet to really set the world alight for club or country but any who have seen him play know his talent is unquestionable. Playing just off the striker, Mitoma has quick feet and a killer pass.
In 2014 Los Ticos shocked the World Cup when they finished top of a group that consisted of England, Italy and Uruguay. A few of the heroes in that team remain in today’s squad, though their powers have waned significantly.
Costa Rica are another side that struggle to score, managing just 13 goals in 14 games to finish 4th in CONCACAF qualifying, eventually beating New Zealand in an intercontinental playoff to book their place at Qatar 2022.
Unlike Japan, they’re not particularly good defensively either, conceding 8 goals in qualifying. They play a standard 4-4-2, trying to keep things tight and hit their opponents on the counter with strikers who are good finishers.
This looks like an awfully challenging group for Costa Rica, whose players are best avoided in Fantasy terms. They will have to rely on the “Spirit of 2014” if they’re to get anything.
Best fantasy players from Costa Rica
Joel Campbell, FWD ($6m) ★☆☆☆☆
Former Arsenal star, Joel Campbell is his country’s most likely route to goal. Though I wouldn’t get my hopes too high with just two goals in 11 qualifying matches.
Bryan Ruiz, MID ($6m) ★☆☆☆☆
Captain and ever-present Bryan Ruiz is a veteran of the 2014 World Cup. The 37-year-old is a dead-ball specialist and the current top scorer in the Costa Rica squad (29 goals in 144 games).
Differential/budget player from Costa Rica
Jewison Bennette, MID ($4.5m)
Sunderland newboy Jewison Bennett is the youngest player to represent his country at just 17 years old. He assisted Campbell’s crucial goal as they beat New Zealand 1-0 to qualify for the tournament.
Continue to GROUP F
Odhrán Brennan is a data journalist for a sports data company, living in Finland. He’s been playing FPL since the 06/07 season and is a long-suffering fan of both Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland national team. You can follow him on Twitter here