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What do Spain, Germany, Japan and Costa Rica need to qualify?

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Group E faces a defining day on Sunday as sides like Spain and Germany battle for pole position at the 2022 World Cup.

The two European giants endured differing results on the opening matchday, leaving Spain comfortable and Germany restless after a victory and a defeat respectively.

Japan have a wonderful chance of reaching the last 16, while Costa Rica have it all to do after an embarrassing defeat to Spain.

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Spain at the World Cup so far

Spain opened up their 2022 World Cup campaign by smashing Costa Rica 7-0 on Wednesday.

La Roja didn’t play with a classic striker up front but wasted little time in attack as Dani Olmo, Marco Asensio and Ferran Torres all netted to have them 3-0 up just after the half hour mark.

A second for Torres coupled with further strikes for Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata made it a huge win for Spain, boosting their goal difference with a clinical performance.

What do Spain need?

Spain’s huge win makes them favourites to qualify from Group E in first place.

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If Japan beat or draw with Costa Rica, Spain can seal their spot in the last 16 by beating Germany before the final matchday.

Germany at the World Cup so far

Germany still harbour scars from their embarrassing 2018 title defence and matters weren’t helped by a shock defeat to Japan.

Ilkay Gundogan’s header had given Hansi Flick’s side the initiative, but a second-half capitulation saw them slip to a 2-1 defeat.

What do Germany need?

Germany’s opening defeat has made their task of reaching the last 16 much tougher.

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They will hope Costa Rica can provide an upset by holding or beating Japan to ensure their game against Spain isn’t make or break.

However, if Japan do avoid defeat, Germany will be eliminated if they lose to Spain.

Japan at the World Cup so far

Japan knew they were outsiders for a qualification spot when they were drawn with Spain and Germany, but their opening win against the Germans has put the Asian side in a strong position.

Gundogan’s penalty had put Hajime Moriyasu’s side behind, but two goals in eight minutes from Ritsu Doan and Takuma Asano gave Japan a historic World Cup win.

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What do Japan need?

Following that victory over Germany, Japan are in a wonderful position to qualify for the last 16.

If they beat Costa Rica, they will qualify before their final game if Germany fail to beat Spain later on Sunday.

Costa Rica at the World Cup so far

Costa Rica are firmly the outside shot to qualify from Group E. They showed little in attack to bother Spain in that 7-0 defeat, with Keylor Navas looking uninspired between the sticks.

They will look to the experience of Joel Campbell up front to try to poach them a few goals, but the thrashing has put Costa Rica firmly on the back foot.

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What do Costa Rica need?

Costa Rica’s dismal showing means it’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of any 2014 heroics when they escaped a group including Uruguay, Italy and England as winners.

They have to beat Japan first up. If they lose that game and Spain aren’t defeated by Germany, the Central Americans will be out with a game to spare.



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EPL

RB Leipzig End Liverpool’s Hopes of Early Naby Keita Move

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Naby Keita will not be allowed to ditch Leipzig for ​Liverpool in January, regardless of progression to the knockout stages of the Champions League, according to Leipziger Volkszeitung.

It was announced during the summer that Liverpool had met Keita’s release clause and the Guinean midfielder would move to Anfield at the end of the 2017/18 season. 

However, recent speculation suggested that die Roten Bullen could be persuaded into letting Keita leave the club during the winter transfer window.

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“Even if we should not reach the knockout stages of Champions League, it would make no sense to allow Naby to join Liverpool earlier,” said RB Leipzig sporting director, Ralf Rangnick.

“We want to qualify for Europe again, and we need Naby for that.”

Leipzig have won just one Champions League game this season, with defeats to FC Porto and Besiktas making progression to the knockout stages a difficult task this year.

Following their impressive maiden season in the Bundesliga, in which RB Leipzig finished ahead of Borussia Dortmund, the Red Bulls will be desperate to make sure their Champions League status continues next season.

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The 22-year-old has struggled to replicate the incredible form he showed last year since the announcement of his move next summer. 

Questions about Keita’s disciplinary record have also arisen this season, the midfielder seeing three red cards for club and country in less than one month.



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Man Utd’s fixture list up to Carabao Cup final including Barcelona & Leeds clashes

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Manchester United reached their first final under Erik ten Hag by securing safe passage through the Carabao Cup semi finals at the expense of Nottingham Forest.

The Red Devils have enjoyed a brilliant run of form after their infamous defeats to Brighton and Brentford to start the season. They’re firmly in the Champions League qualification mix and remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League.

However, their commitments in cup competitions means Ten Hag faces a tough February as he tries to balance the playing time of a squad that has recently been struck by injuries to key players.

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Here’s United’s truncated schedule leading up to the Carabao Cup final, including some juicy derbies and European fixtures.

Michael Olise, David De Gea

Olise denied Man Utd with a late free kick last time out / Justin Setterfield/GettyImages

Fresh from sealing their spot in the Carabao Cup final against Newcastle, United are back into Premier League matters when they host Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on Saturday 4 February in a 15:00 GMT kick off.

The two sides duked it out earlier a few weeks ago in their first meeting of the season as a late Michael Olise free-kick earned Palace a point after Bruno Fernandes’ strike just before half time.

Manchester United and Leeds are fierce rivals and the tension between the two teams has risen again following Leeds’ promotion to the Premier League.

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The Red Devils have scored 15 goals in the four meetings in that time, only failing to win once when they were held to a goalless draw in April 2021. The fixture was originally postponed following Queen Elizabeth II’s death in September and will take place on Wednesday 8 February at 20:00 GMT.

Fred, Anthony Elanga

Fred and Elanga struck at Elland Road last season / Shaun Botterill/GettyImages

That fixture rearrangement means the two Uniteds will face each other twice in four days.

In this fixture last season, two headless chickens went at it as Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds were downed 4-2 by Ralf Rangnick’s Man Utd. Goals from Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes had the visitors 2-0 up before two goals in two minutes from Rodrigo and Raphinha squared things up.

Substitutes Fred and Anthony Elanga gave the Red Devils all three points. However, they would win only three more league games before the end of the season.

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The stakes are really upped in mid February when Man Utd travel to Barcelona to face the Catalan giants at Camp Nou in the Europa League knockout play-off round.

It’s Barça who hold the edge in recent meetings, having won the past four games between the two sides.

Once they return home from the trip to Catalonia, United have a home game against Leicester to contend with.

The Foxes have endured some turbulent form this season but have mostly been a mess at the back, though the sides were only separated by Jadon Sancho’s strike they met back in September.

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Lionel Messi

A lot has changed since United and Barça last met in 2019 / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

The return leg of the Europa League knockout play-off round will determine who between United and Barça continue in the continent’s secondary club competition.

United’s last win over Barça came at Old Trafford in 2008 when Paul Scholes scored the only goal of a Champions League semi final tie to send his side to final in Moscow.

Two of the most improved sides this season meet in the Carabao Cup final in late February when Newcastle face Man Utd.

Both sides are eyeing up Champions League qualification and each sit in the top four currently and this meeting could be an opportunity to land a significant psychological blow.

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Player ratings as Catalans pull clear in La Liga

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Barcelona survived a late scare against Real Betis to secure a 2-1 win and at least temporarily extend their lead at the top of La Liga to eight points before Real Madrid play on Thursday night.

Barça went into the game at Benito Villamarin knowing they had the opportunity to start pulling away from their fierce rivals in Madrid. But it took until well into the second half for the breakthrough to come, with Raphinha and later Robert Lewandowski eventually netting.

An own goal from Joules Kounde in the closing stages threatened to make it a difficult end for Xavi’s team, but they managed to see it out. Betis midfielder William Carvalho, who had already been substituted with an hour played, was then sent off for dissent at the game’s conclusion.

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Betis were actually the first to threaten in the contest, seeing Luiz Henrique only narrowly miss an early chance when his shot was deflected just wide by Alejandro Balde.

Pedri had a chance for Barça at the other end not long after, but his touch in the penalty area wasn’t sharp enough and Rui Silva in the home goal got down to pick the ball off his toe.

Silva again denied Pedri after the restart, but Raphinha broke the deadlock in the 65th minute. The Brazilian, whose debut season hasn’t been a rip-roaring success, tapped in from close range after excellent work from Balde down the left flank.

Lewandowski’s ultimately decisive second was from only a little further out, pounced on by the Pole after Ronald Araujo flicked on Raphinha’s cross.

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That cushion was enough for Barça and ensured that Kounde’s own goal mattered little in the end.

GK: Silva (6); RB: Ruibal (7), CB: Pezzella (6), CB: Felipe (6), LB: Abner (6); CM: Rodriguez (6), CM: Carvalho (5); RM: Henrique (7), AM: Fekir (6), LM: Canales (6); ST: Iglesias (6)

Subs: Guardado (6), Juanmi (6), Rodri (6), Jose (5), Sabaly (6)

GK: Ter Stegen (6); RB: Kounde (6), CB: Araujo (7), CB: Chistensen (7), LB: Balde (8); CM: De Jong (7), CM: Busquets (8), CM: Pedri (7); RW: Raphinha (8), ST: Lewandowski (7), LW: Gavi (7)

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Subs: Fati (5), Torres (N/A), Kessie (N/A)

Player of the match – Alejandro Balde (Barcelona)



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