Germany aim for World Cup redemption with Spain and Croatia kicking off

DOHA, Qatar, November 22Germany begin their road to World Cup redemption on Wednesday after the horror show of 2018 in Russia, with Spain and Croatia also kicking off their campaigns in Qatar.

After Saudi Arabia stunned Lionel Messi’s Argentina, ending the South American champions’ 36-game unbeaten streak, Germany will be on high alert in their opener against Japan.

Croatia, second surprise four years ago, face Morocco at the start of the game. Spain will face Costa Rica in the evening before Belgium face Canada late in the game.

As defending champions, Germany crashed out in the group stage in Russia, suffering their first World Cup exit since 1938.

“We know what happened four and a half years ago was terrible, so we had to wait quite a long time,” said Bayern Munich midfielder Joshua Kimmich.

“The first match is extremely important. We lost our first match at the last Euros and we didn’t win the tournament, so hopefully tomorrow we will win.

The four-time world champions have been steady but unspectacular under Hansi Flick, who took over last year following the resignation of longtime manager Joachim Loew.

Spain will be hoping for a much smoother entry than they did in Russia, where Julen Lopetegui was sacked on the eve of the tournament for taking the Real Madrid job.

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They have the third youngest squad in the World Cup with Luis Enrique relying on young talent while some older players like Sergio Ramos have been left out of the squad.

“It’s very positive because the young players bring energy to the team, we try to manage that with the experience we have as a staff,” said Luis Enrique.

Time is running out for Belgium’s golden generation who formed the backbone of the team that finished third in the last World Cup.

– Modric looks to the future –

With Romelu Lukaku missing the first two group matches and captain Eden Hazard reduced to a secondary role at Real Madrid, Belgium will rely heavily on Kevin De Bruyne.

Belgium, ranked second in the world behind Brazil, played a warm-up friendly against Egypt last week in Kuwait but lost 2-1.

In Canada, they meet a team returning to the World Cup for the first time in 36 years. The Canadiens were buoyed by Alphonso Davies’ return to top form.

Croatian playmaker Luka Modric has warned his team-mates not to expect a repeat of their heroism from the last World Cup, when the country of just over four million punched above their weight to reach the final.

“Everything we went through during the 2018 World Cup was an unforgettable experience, but we have to put it aside and focus on what lies ahead,” Modric said.

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With Saudi Arabia making headlines on the pitch, World Cup organizers faced growing questions on Tuesday over whether to display the rainbow logo in Qatar, where the homosexuality is illegal.

Seven European teams, including England and Germany, have waived their captains wearing rainbow-themed armbands due to the threat of disciplinary action from FIFA.

The German football association said it was examining whether FIFA’s threat to punish players who wear the “OneLove” armband was legal.

Belgian Jan Vertonghen went so far as to say he was “afraid” to talk about human rights.

“I’m afraid that if I say something about it I won’t be able to play tomorrow,” said the defender.

“It’s an experience I’ve never felt in football before. I feel controlled. I’m afraid to even say something about it.

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