Spain vs Costa Rica predictions: La Roja should keep things tight in opener
- Spain look top-class in midfield but doubts remain over cutting edge up front
- 2014 quarter-finalists Costa Rica too reliant on veteran stars
- Recommended bet: Spain to win 3-0
All eyes will be on Spain's second Group E fixture against fellow European heavyweights Germany but La Roja cannot afford a slip-up in their opening clash with Costa Rica.
Los Ticos topped a group containing England, Italy and Uruguay during their shock run to the quarter-finals of the 2014 World Cup, but few younger players have broken into the team since then and they face a daunting test against 2010 world champions Spain.
Luis Enrique's men played some terrific football on their way to the semi-finals of Euro 2020 last year before their run was ended by a penalty-shootout defeat to eventual champions Italy.
There is a nice blend of experience and youth in the squad with seasoned campaigners Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets and Alvaro Morata joined by Barcelona tyros Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati, as well as 20-year-old Athletic Bilbao forward Nico Williams.
Spain tend to start slowly at major tournaments, drawing their opening two matches at the Euros with Sweden and Poland, but they have an ideal opportunity to bank three points against the group outsiders before their showdown with Germany.
Spain had to replace left-back Jose Gaya (ankle) with Barcelona's Alex Balde last week so the vastly experienced Alba is likely to start at full-back.
Unai Simon is La Roja's first-choice goalkeeper, as he was at the Euros, and Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres look set to start at the heart of the defence.
Laporte's Manchester City teammate Rodri may have to settle for a place on the bench as Enrique prefers an all-Barca midfield of Busquets, Gavi and Pedri, while Ferran Torres and Morata should fill two of the three attacking berths with Williams, Ansu Fati, Dani Olmo and Pablo Sarabia jostling for the final spot in the starting XI.
Costa Rica have no reported injury concerns so veteran midfielders Bryan Ruiz and Celso Borges, both of whom have won over 150 caps, should start. Paris St-Germain goalkeeper Keylor Navas, a star of their 2014 World Cup campaign, remains their No1 and former Arsenal winger Joel Campbell is aiming to add to his tally of 25 international goals.
Spain have made slow starts to their last three World Cups and they lost their 2010 opener to Switzerland before going on to lift the trophy. Four years later they were thumped 5-1 by the Netherlands, while their 2018 campaign began with a thrilling 3-3 draw against Portugal.
Despite reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2020, five of Spain's six matches were level after 90 minutes. They have shown more ruthlessness in recent Nations League games, however, winning three of their last four fixtures against Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Portugal, keeping clean sheets in all three victories.
Six of Spain's last seven competitive wins have been by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline and Costa Rica have an impressive recent defensive record too, conceding only eight goals in 15 internationals leading up to the World Cup.
Spain have often stumbled out of the blocks at major tournaments, most recently at last year's Euros where they had 85% of possession against Sweden yet were held to a goalless draw.
The timing of the winter World Cup may mean their players are sharper this time around and they should make no mistake against a Costa Rica side heavily reliant on the same players who took them to the last eight in 2014.
Los Ticos are 14/1 with LiveScore Bet to spring a massive surprise in Group E, but Spain controlled games superbly against some top-class teams at the Euros and it is hard to see the underdogs getting a foothold in midfield.
Despite reservations over striker Morata's chance-conversion rate, a 3-0 Spain win looks an appealing bet with LiveScore Bet as they should create plenty of opportunities against their ageing opponents.
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