Hansi Flick praised Germany's mentality and remains upbeat despite their World Cup destiny no longer being in their hands after Sunday's 1-1 draw with Spain.

Niclas Fullkrug cancelled out Alvaro Morata's earlier effort to earn a point but, following the 2-1 defeat by Japan, the four-time champions have failed to win their opening two matches at the finals for the first time.

Die Nationalmannschaft must beat Costa Rica in their final Group E match to stand any chance of progressing to the last 16, while hoping the Samurai Blue fail to beat La Roja in the other showdown.

Addressing the media during his post-match conference: Flick said: "The team maintained a great level. I am very satisfied with the mentality and the team's work today. This was a match on a high level.

"Those are things we want to see from this team, but this was only a first step. We want to see [more in the] next match and create the conditions to go through

"Spain are a great team with many young players, some experienced players, they're technically very refined. They started well, but we pushed against them.

"We were also able to defend well, we went in hard. But this is an opponent who plays so freely with great qualities, they are difficult to defend against, and we need to work on that and improve in defence.

"But what's important is the mentality was there. They showed they want to get points, create chances and that's what we did, that's why we're more than satisfied with the result."

Germany are aiming to avoid falling at the first hurdle in successive finals, having also crashed out in the group stages in Russia four years ago.

But Flick remains optimistic, and believes a repeat of the character demonstrated in the Spain draw will stand his side in good stead.

"In these matches, there are things to do better, but I am very upbeat," he added. "Maybe, this result will help us improve morale for the future. I liked the mentality of the team during the 90 minutes and that's what we have to show."

Alvaro Morata says there will be no complacency from Spain when they attempt to seal a place in the World Cup round of 16 against Japan after a 1-1 draw with Germany.

Morata came off the bench to score his second goal of the tournament to put La Roja in front at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday, but substitute Niclas Fullkrug salvaged a point with a late equaliser for Germany.

Group E leaders Spain only need a point against Japan next Thursday to qualify, while Germany must beat Costa Rica and hope Luis Enrique's side can do them a favour.

All four teams can still qualify from the group following Costa Rica's 1-0 win over Japan, with Germany bottom following their shock 2-1 loss to the Samurai Blue on Wednesday.

Striker Morata stressed there is no chance Spain will take Japan lightly at Khalifa International Stadium.

"Japan is a tough team, they run a lot, they are good tactically. It's another tough game, it's a World Cup." he said.

The Atletico Madrid frontman says he has no problem with being among the substitutes again after also finding the back of the net in a 7-0 rout of Costa Rica.

"We are on the bench for this [to score]. Germany are a great team, this match could have been a semi-final or final in the World Cup," he said.

"It's the same [starting of being a substitute], the most important thing is to win. They scored an amazing goal, so we didn't have the victory, but we keep training and pushing with good vibes and positivity."

Morata has scored eight goals at European Championships and World Cups, at least double the amount of any other player for Spain since 2016.

 

Cody Gakpo says "anything is possible" with his future at PSV after impressing for the Netherlands at the World Cup.

The 23-year-old has scored in his country's opening two matches – a 2-0 win over Senegal followed by a 1-1 draw with Ecuador – leaving Oranje top of Group A with a game to go.

He recently revealed he was disappointed to have missed out on a move to Manchester United, while Liverpool, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have since been linked.

While Gakpo's immediate focus is on helping the Netherlands advance deep into the World Cup, he is not ruling out a move away from PSV when the January window opens.

"Right now I'm busy with the Dutch team. I'll see what happens in the winter. In football, anything is possible," he said at a press conference on Sunday.

"I don't get shy about the rumours. But it's a team sport, it's not about one person. I prefer it to be about the team. 

"It's nice things that people write, but I'm not too concerned with that. I'm focused now on the World Cup. I just focus here and do my best."

 

Gakpo has been directly involved in 34 goals in 28 games for PSV and the Netherlands this season, scoring 16 and assisting a further eight.

Despite enjoying his best campaign to date, the forward – into his fifth season as a first-team regular for PSV – insists there is still more to come.

"I know what I'm capable of but it's always a challenge to reach your highest level," he said. "I'm not there yet; I can improve in a lot of things.

"I know I scored two goals this World Cup. But that's not the focus right now. I can improve, I want to help the team. It's about being the best team in the end."

Gakpo could become the fourth man to score in three straight World Cup games for Oranje after Johan Neeskens (1974), Dennis Bergkamp (1994) and Wesley Sneijder (2010).

The Netherlands will advance to the last 16 if they avoid defeat against host nation Qatar on Tuesday, while a loss may also see them through if Ecuador beat Senegal.

They have won all four of their World Cup matches against Asian sides, scoring 11 goals and conceding just once.

Nemanja Gudelj has defended the challenge on Neymar that may have led Brazil's star man to sustain his ankle injury in the victory over Serbia.

Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar limped off in the 80th minute of the Selecao's 2-0 triumph on Thursday, having been subjected to nine fouls – more than any other player during the opening round of group games.

Neymar, who suffered what has been described as a lateral ligament injury to his right ankle, shared an update on his official Instagram account on Saturday, including photos of his heavily swollen foot.

Gudelj received a yellow card for his 49th-minute challenge – and was substituted eight minutes later – but the midfielder insists he had no intention of injuring his opponent.

"I didn't feel like I tackled him very hard myself," Gudelj told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. "I tried not to hit him hard and certainly not on his ankle. I think he got injured during another action, because he played on for a while.

"I felt I had no choice because Neymar is deadly when he enters the penalty area. It was a necessary foul in my opinion, but one that eventually cost me a substitution."

Serbia suffered their eighth World Cup defeat since 2006 after going down against Brazil, with only Australia losing on more occasions at the finals during this span (nine).

Dragan Stojkovic's side can reignite their last-16 hopes with victory over Cameroon on Monday, before their Group G campaign concludes against Switzerland four days later.

"We played too carefully in the second half [against Brazil] and showed too much respect," Gudelj added. "We collapsed, so we certainly asked for a goal against a team with as much quality up front as Brazil.

"Whether we have seen the future world champions at work, I don't know. But they are definitely one of the favourites. They are an excellent team with technical and dynamic players. They're definitely going to fight for the gold.

"We have faith in ourselves and hope. Of course, you can lose a game against Brazil, because they really have an excellent team.

"We just need to win two games now. So, we're going full steam ahead, with attacking football – the way we like to play."

Hakim Ziyech says Morocco found it "easier" to face Belgium than Croatia after they moved top of World Cup Group F with a 2-0 win over the Red Devils.

Belgium were favourites to secure what would have been a record ninth consecutive victory in a World Cup group game at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Morocco were worthy winners, though, following up a goalless draw with Croatia by taking all three points in Doha.

Romain Saiss got on the end of Abdelhamid Sabiri's set-piece to open the scoring and Zakaria Aboukhlal sealed a famous victory for the Atlas Lions in stoppage time.

Ziyech was named man of the match after having a first-half goal disallowed for offside and providing an assist for Aboukhlal in the closing stages.

The Chelsea winger said: "The first game was more difficult for us. We couldn't play our game, Croatia played a very good game. This one was perhaps easier, especially in midfield. They may have made more mistakes than the Croats.

"We played a very strong, robust game, especially in defence. We were waiting for their mistakes and I think we took the lead from that and scored at the right time."

Ziyech added: "I don't deserve this player of the match trophy. It's a collective effort, everyone was behind me, it's a collective work."

The former Ajax man felt Morocco's vociferous fans played a big part in a huge win in the battle for a place in the round of 16.

He said: "After 60-70 minutes some were tired and when we scored that goal they rallied behind us. It gave us more power, more power. The crowd helped us, they were behind us and I think that really boosted us."

Morocco’s victory over Belgium was their first in five World Cup matches and put their fate in their own hands heading into a final group game against Canada next Thursday.

A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri's dangerous ball took a slight touch off team-mate Romain Saiss to put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work to leave Group F wide open with one round of games to go.

Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick from the left to the near post which found its way past Courtois via a faint touch off Saiss, who was awarded the goal, with no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up Aboukhlal to smash home.

 

What does it mean? Belgium's fine run ends

Winning their past eight group-stage matches at the World Cup, victory would have seen Belgium set an outright record in that regard, while they had not lost at this stage of the tournament since 1994.

Morocco, with just two wins from 17 previous fixtures at the tournament (D6, L9), were largely unfancied before a ball was kicked in a group that contained two semi-finalists from Russia 2018, but they have avoided defeat against both.

A famous triumph inflicted Belgium's first ever defeat to an African nation at the World Cup, and Morocco now just need a point against Canada to reach the knockout stage for the first time since 1986.

Moroccan magic

Heading into the game, Morocco had failed to score in 53 per cent of their World Cup matches (9/17), which stood as the joint-highest percentage of any nation to have played at least 10 matches in the tournament.

While chances from open play were limited, Morocco's effectiveness from set-pieces proved crucial, with the same move against Belgium working twice – though the first was ruled out.

Disappointing De Bruyne

Usually one to pull the strings in midfield, Morocco's fine organisation left Kevin De Bruyne's influence on the match being limited, the Manchester City man creating just one chance for his team during the game.

De Bruyne ended up being the man at the end of attacking sequences for Martinez's side, with more shots (three) than any of his team-mates but failing to hit the target with any, while also losing possession on a game-high 27 occasions.

Key Opta facts

- Belgium have lost seven of their past 19 matches in all competitions (W9 D3), as many defeats as they had suffered across their previous 74 games combined (W57 D10).
- Morocco's victory over Belgium was their first win in five games at the World Cup (D2 L2). Meanwhile, it was the first time that they had recorded consecutive clean sheets at the World Cup since 1986.
- Belgium are just the third side to lose their 50th game at the World Cup, after England in 2002 (v Brazil) and Spain in 2010 (v Switzerland), though the latter went on to win the tournament that year.
- The Red Devils have only scored fewer goals after two games at a World Cup once before (none in 1930) – they had scored eight goals across their first two games in 2018.

What's next?

Morocco tackle Canada in their final group match on Thursday, knowing a draw will be enough to secure a spot in the knockout stage, while Belgium lock horns with Croatia on the same day.

Saudi Arabia captain Salman Al Faraj has been ruled out for the remainder of the World Cup through injury.

The Al Hilal defender injured his leg in Tuesday's shock 2-1 win over Argentina and left the stadium on crutches.

Al Faraj did not feature in Saudi Arabia's 2-0 loss to Poland in their second Group C contest on Saturday and will play no further part in their Qatar 2022 campaign.

A Saudi statement confirmed the news on Sunday and added Al Faraj, who has been capped 71 times for his country, will undergo a full recovery programme.

Saudi Arabia are also without Yasser Al Shahrani after he underwent emergency surgery following a horror collision with team-mate Mohammed Al Owais against Argentina.

Herve Renard's side face Mexico in their final group match and will advance to the last 16 if they win, while a draw will be enough should Poland defeat Argentina.

Should Saudi Arabia draw and Argentina beat Poland, it will then come down to goal difference to determine who progresses to the knockout stage.

Ben Davies believes England would be weaker without Harry Kane ahead of Wales' crunch match with the Three Lions, while Joe Allen defended the performances of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

The Golden Boot winner in Russia four years ago, Kane is yet to register a shot on target across England's 6-2 win over Iran and goalless draw with the United States.

With the Three Lions all but assured of a place in the knockout stage, Gareth Southgate may rest his captain for their final Group B match.

Davies saluted his Tottenham team-mate but even with his potential absence, the defender is well aware of the Dragons' task.

"Harry's a world-class player and one of the best in the world, so he's going to make any team better with him in there," he said.

"That doesn't mean that England don't have very capable replacements to come in. Whoever we're up against, we're facing a team of world-class players.

"They're a world-class side. It's going to be a very tough game, but we have to prep as well as we can, look for areas of weakness they have and try and capitalise on that.

"We're under no illusions it's not going to be anything other than very difficult."

Having collected a single point from their first two games, Rob Page's side must beat their rivals - while hoping Iran fail to beat USA - to stand any chance of extending their first finals appearance in 64 years.

Davies has urged his team-mates to respond to their surprise 2-0 defeat by Iran last time out with 100 per cent effort at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium.

"We've had that disappointment, and we've got no choice but to move on and give everything we can," the Tottenham defender added.

"We're a team that's set high standards for ourselves and that's the reason why we've got to where we are now.

"That's the reason why we've been critical of our last few results – it's only because of the bar we've set ourselves. We know we can play a lot better, and we hope to do that in the next game."

Meanwhile, Joe Allen leapt to the defence of Bale and Ramsey. Between them, the pair have scored 61 goals for Wales, and were expected to play a key role in Qatar.

But both came under scrutiny following a pair of below-par displays against the USA and Iran, with four-time Champions League winner Bale registering just one shot on goal against the latter. 

"They're two incredible players, and they have been for our country," Allen said. "I don't think there's anyone else in the squad who's reached the heights they're capable of.

"It's a huge game coming up, they're big-game players and always have been. Hopefully, if any criticism has come their way, then they'll be able to answer a few of those critics with a top performance."

A superb second-half performance from Morocco secured a famous 2-0 World Cup victory against Belgium at Al Thumama Stadium on Sunday.

Victory for Roberto Martinez's side would have seen the 2018 semi-finalists become the second side to book their spot in the knockout stage, alongside France, but the Red Devils fell short.

Having seen a first-half free-kick from Hakim Ziyech disallowed, the same tactic provided dividends in the second period as Abdelhamid Sabiri put Morocco on course for just a third win in their World Cup history.

The win was then secured in the final minutes of the game, Zakaria Aboukhlal smashing home from close range after Ziyech's fine work.

Belgium saw the majority of possession early on and dictated play, Michy Batshuayi forcing an early save from Munir Mohamedi, who came into the side as a very late change for Yassine Bounou.

Having been on the back foot for the majority, Morocco thought they had scored on the brink of half-time as Ziyech's free-kick found its way into the net, but Romain Saiss was offside and adjudged to have blocked Thibaut Courtois' line of sight.

Lightning struck twice for Martinez's side after the break, as Sabiri whipped in a dangerous free-kick to the near post which found its way past Courtois and, while Saiss was again in the proximity, there was no offside flag to save Belgium this time.

Any hope of a late fightback from Belgium was wiped away in added time, Ziyech winning the ball off a poor touch from Axel Witsel and teeing up for Aboukhlal to smash home.

Unity will likely be key if Ghana are to avoid an early elimination from the World Cup, though that is seemingly an area upcoming opponents South Korea are aiming to exploit.

The Black Stars put up a good fight as they lost 3-2 to Portugal, almost rescuing a commendable point only to see Inaki Williams slip at the vital moment after stealing the ball off goalkeeper Diogo Costa.

As such, defeat at Education City on Monday will see Ghana exit at the group stage in consecutive appearances at the World Cup (also in 2014) after reaching the knockout rounds in both of their first two (2006 and 2010).

But Ghana coach Otto Addo retains a positive outlook.

Granted, his optimism is based partly on Portugal doing Ghana a favour against Uruguay, but Addo sees a real possibility of the Black Stars sitting second in Group H heading into the final game of the first stage.

Asked if he was confident Ghana could still reach the last 16, Addo said: "First of all, certainly, we have a chance, especially because [South Korea and Uruguay] played a draw.

"If we win against South Korea and Portugal wins, hopefully, against Uruguay, then we will be second, so the chance is still great.

"For sure, it will be very, very tough to beat South Korea because they are good, but now we have to win. We are under pressure, but they are too."

Ghana have not won any of their past five World Cup matches but they rarely fail to score, having netted at least once in six successive games at the tournament – Nigeria (eight) are the only African team to better that streak.

With that in mind, South Korea will probably need to improve on their run of not scoring in three of their past five World Cup outings if they are to prevail on Monday.

On top of that, they have failed to get a single shot on target in two of their most recent four fixtures at the tournament, and that includes the stalemate with Uruguay when they looked somewhat toothless.

However, Paulo Bento's men seem to feel there will be an element of Ghana not helping themselves.

Midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong said: "They are a fast team, but if we can take advantage of space behind their defence, I think we should have some opportunities.

"They didn't seem to have such great team work. We played well in our first match and we'll try to build on that against Ghana."

Fellow midfielder Song Min-kyu did not question Ghana's work ethic, though he picked up on a similar theme with regards to exploiting the Black Star's backline.

"They have some speedy and physical players with good skills. We know we have to be prepared against them.

"But we also saw that they had some holes behind their defense, and we should try to exploit that extra space."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

South Korea – Lee Kang-in

Son Heung-min is, of course, South Korea's star. He will undoubtedly be expected to lead from the front, but he was ineffective against Portugal, managing just a single shot.

Lee had some bright moments off the bench and ended up recording two key passes, a figure bettered by none of his team-mates. It is unclear if he will come into the starting XI, but he certainly has the ability to influence proceedings off the bench.

Ghana – Thomas Partey

Arsenal midfielder Partey showed how important he is to Ghana in the defeat to Portugal. Perhaps not known as a creator, he laid on two chances to team-mates in that game, a joint-high for Addo's side.

But on top of that, he had the most touches (68), successful passes (47) and tackles (four) in the Ghana team. If they do beat South Korea, he will surely have played a vital role.

PREDICTION

With a 40.9 per cent chance of winning, South Korea go into this as the favourites according to Stats Perform data. However, the win probability calculator suggests it could be a very tight affair.

The likelihood of a Ghana win sits at 31.3 per cent, meaning they have every right to feel they can leave with the three points – though a draw looks almost as likely (27.8 per cent).

Luke Shaw says England are extra motivated heading into their World Cup clash with Wales after their opponents wildly celebrated the Three Lions' exit from Euro 2016.

An infamous video circulated following England's embarrassing last-16 defeat to Iceland six and a half years ago showing Wales' players lapping up their fierce rivals' demise.

Wales surpassed expectations by making it to the semi-finals of that competition, despite losing to England in the group stage, but they have had less success at Qatar 2022.

The Dragons require a victory against England at Ahmed bin Ali Stadium if they are to avoid a group-stage exit and must hope the United States and Iran play out a draw elsewhere.

A four-goal win for Wales against their neighbours on Tuesday would also be enough, but they have not so much as avoided defeated against England in their past six meetings.

Shaw, who played a full part in England's 6-2 win over Iran and goalless draw with the USA, believes the scenes from 2016 will add more spice to an already feisty fixture.

"I think you could say that," Shaw said. "But our motivation in itself has to be at its highest level. We are at the World Cup. We have great aims for what we want to achieve.

"We have to have the maximum motivation at every game. I don't think there's any more motivation than what we have already. 

"It wasn't nice. I don't want to dwell too much on that. I want to focus on what we do on the pitch. We can say things in interviews and I'd rather do our talking on the pitch."

 

Asked if England's players would consider recording similar scenes of celebrating should they knock out Wales, Shaw said: "I think we are a respectful group.

"We do things in the right way. That's the example Gareth [Southgate] wants to set. We are fully behind that. We are fully respectful.

"I think their motivation is going to be extremely high. They are going to give everything to win. It's not an easy game. But we need to focus on what we do."

England will advance to the knockout stage if they avoid a heavy loss to Wales, though Southgate's side will be targeting a victory to make certain of top spot in Group B.

Speaking ahead of England's first ever World Cup match against a fellow British side, Southgate said: "We have got to play well. 

"We are going to play an opponent that is wounded and, like everybody else, desperate to beat the English. We've got to play an intelligent game, play well and match their spirit.

"I would be very disappointed if someone says their players will want it more than ours. I'd be asking questions about what we stand for and what we have been for five years."

England have lost their third and final group-stage game in just two of their 14 participations at the World Cup (W7 D5), doing so against Spain in 1950 and Belgium in 2018.

Carlos Queiroz has demanded Jurgen Klinsmann resign from his FIFA position after making a string of accusations about Iran's World Cup team, labelling the German's comments "a disgrace".

Iran head coach Queiroz reacted after his team were accused by Klinsmann of having "worked the referee" during the 2-0 win against Wales on Friday.

Working as a BBC pundit, Klinsmann suggested Iran getting to the match officials and pushing the boundaries of acceptability was "part of their culture".

In response, Queiroz suggested California-based Klinsmann's "outrageous remarks" stemmed from his "American/German" background.

He said Klinsmann should visit Iran's training camp to learn more about the team, but must step down from FIFA's World Cup technical study group beforehand.

Prompted about the conduct of Iran's players in the Wales game just staying on the right side of the game's laws, Klinsmann said: "That's their culture, that's their way of doing it, and that's why Carlos Queiroz, he fits really well the Iranian national team.

"He struggled in South America and failed with Colombia to qualify, and then he failed with Egypt to qualify as well, and he went back right before the World Cup and guided Iran, where he worked already for a long, long time.

"This is not by coincidence. This is just part of their culture, that's how they play it. They worked the referee. You saw the bench, always jumping up and always working the linesman and fourth referee on the sidelines, they are constantly in their ear.

"This is their culture; they make you lose your focus, make you lose your concentration and what's important to you."

Klinsmann said there could have been a "big difference with another referee" and added: "Let's say it did not play into the hands of Wales."

Queiroz responded on Saturday with a string of withering Twitter messages aimed at Klinsmann, who was a 1990 World Cup winner as a player with West Germany and later coach of Germany and the United States.

Queiroz began by saying: "Even not knowing me personally, you question my character with a typical prejudiced judgement of superiority.

"No matter how much I can respect what you did inside the pitch, those remarks about Iran culture, Iran national team and my players are a disgrace to football. Nobody can hurt our integrity if it is not at our level, of course.

"Even saying so, we would like to invite you as our guest, to come to our national team camp, socialise with Iran players and learn from them about the country, the people of Iran, the poets and art, the algebra, all the millennial Persian culture…

"And also listen from our players how much they love and respect football. As American/German, we understand your no support. No problem. And despite your outrageous remarks on BBC trying to undermine our efforts, sacrifices and skills, we promise you that we will not produce any judgements regarding your culture, roots and background and that you will always be welcome to our family.

"At the same time, we just want to follow with full attention what will be the decision of FIFA regarding your position as a member of Qatar 2022 technical study group.

"Because, obviously, we expect you to resign before you visit our camp."

This is former Manchester United assistant boss Queiroz's third consecutive World Cup as Iran boss. His short spells with Colombia and Egypt followed the 2018 tournament, with Queiroz leading Egypt to this year's Africa Cup of Nations final.

They were defeated in that game on penalties by Senegal, and Egypt also lost by the same method to the same opposition in a World Cup play-off, with Queiroz departing and returning to the helm with Iran in September.

Lionel Messi was once again Argentina's saviour with the breakthrough goal in a 2-0 win over Mexico at Lusail Stadium to ignite his side's World Cup campaign.

Poland's 2-0 victory over Saudi Arabia earlier on Saturday left Argentina needing to avoid defeat against Mexico if they were not to exit the competition after just two games.

Argentina put their shock 2-1 loss against Saudi Arabia behind them thanks to Messi's long-range opener after 64 minutes and Enzo Fernandez's equally-as-impressive late strike.

Lionel Scaloni's men join Saudi Arabia on three points and are one point behind Group C leaders Poland, who they face in their final match, while Mexico are bottom on one point.

Argentina made five changes on the back of their opening loss, three of those in defence, and they failed to register a meaningful attempt in the first half.

Mexico went closest to opening the scoring before the interval through an Alexis Vega free-kick that called Emiliano Martinez into action.

The quality only marginally improved in the second half, but out of nowhere Messi controlled Angel Di Maria's pass and fired a low shot past Guillermo Ochoa from 25 yards.

That strike took Messi level with fellow great Diego Maradona on eight World Cup goals for Argentina, who added a second through substitute Fernandez.

With three minutes left, the Benfica midfielder received a pass from Messi following a short corner, worked his way into the box and then curled away from Ochoa into the top corner.

After suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to Japan on matchday one, Germany could ideally do with a swift and straightforward response.

Unfortunately for them, awaiting Die Nationalelf at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday will be a Spain side that remarkably won 7-0 against Costa Rica last time out.

Germany know defeat could doom them to a second successive group-stage elimination at the World Cup, an astonishing turn of events given that before 2018 they had not failed to get past the tournament's first round since 1938.

Another loss would consign Germany to three consecutive World Cup defeats for the first time ever – they have also never been beaten twice in the group stage of a single edition before.

The pressure is already on head coach Hansi Flick, who suggested one of his main objectives before Sunday's game is to ensure the team believes they can prevail.

"The team and every person can always develop," he said. "That's why the team still has potential, which it's not quite delivering at the moment.

"Nevertheless, I believe we have good quality. Yes, we trust the team. We're positive and just really want to see that we approach this game on Sunday against Spain positively.

"It's simply important to deal with defeats, but also to clear your head and focus on the new task, and that's our goal, to get the team to the point where they naturally believe that they can push this thing in the right direction on Sunday."

Regardless of Germany's belief, Flick's side can at least take solace in the fact they pretty much know how Spain will play – Luis Enrique is never secretive about his expectations for La Roja.

In their obliteration of Los Ticos, Spain recorded a possession figure of 81.9 per cent, setting a new record since Opta have this data available in the World Cup (from 1966), surpassing Argentina’s 80.3 per cent against Greece in 2010.

That was Spain's biggest ever World Cup victory and they also boast a strong recent record over Germany, having lost only one of their previous seven meetings.

Granted, Spain have only won their first two games of a World Cup three times and not since 2006, but Luis Enrique was adamant after the Costa Rica win that complacency will not be an issue.

 

This may be a young Spain squad, but they have long resembled an immensely unified unit under the guidance of Luis Enrique, who acts as a sort of pressure sponge, and Rodri believes their overall connection is their key strength.

"It's true we have been working very good for a long time, maybe on the results front," he said. "Nowadays in football there is great equality, but the performance was there [against Costa Rica], and it was good.

"The sensations were great, the team is whole in every line, defensively and offensively the team worked like an accordion.

"The goals for me were a consequence of our play, and what I liked more about the other day is that we know that the collective is what will bring us success.

"That is why everyone was remarkable, everyone had a great contribution, and everyone respected his position and his role."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Spain – Pedri

He was withdrawn before the hour mark against Costa Rica, but that was more than enough time to show just how integral Pedri is to how Spain play. He completed 97 per cent of his passes (86/89), but what made that even more impressive was the fact he was the fulcrum of La Roja's attacking play, with only Dani Olmo (33) attempting more passes in the final third than him (30).

Managing to maintain that accuracy in such a congested area of the pitch where he was expected to take risks was mightily impressive, and he even managed to tally a joint-high three key passes. Germany would be wise to pay him special attention.

 

Germany – Serge Gnabry

The defeat to Japan was a game to forget for Germany, but Gnabry did at least look lively. He managed six shots on matchday one, with three of them on target, and was very involved.

In fact, he played a part in 12 open-play sequences that ended a shot, with Kylian Mbappe (13) the only player to better him in that regard over the first round of matches at the tournament. He will need to do better in front of goal, but he clearly has the capacity to cause Spain problems.

 

PREDICTION

There is every chance this will be close.

Spain go into the game as the favourites with a 42.7 per cent chance of success, according to Stats Perform's AI model, but this means there is a 57.3 per cent likelihood of them failing to win.

That incorporates Germany's 31.9 per cent probability of emerging victorious, which also highlights how difficult this game is to call from the outset.

Gareth Southgate should rest Harry Kane for England's final Group B match against Wales, according to former Three Lions captain Alan Shearer.

Kane claimed the Golden Boot after scoring six goals in the 2018 World Cup, becoming the first England player to win the award since Gary Lineker 32 years earlier.

The Three Lions skipper did not register a shot on target in the Three Lions' 6-2 thrashing of Iran or the goalless draw with the United States in Qatar.

Shearer thinks Callum Wilson might start instead of Kane against Wales on Tuesday, when Southgate's side will be expected to seal their place in the round of 16.

H said in his BBC column: "I am not overly concerned about that statistic [Kane not having a shot on target], because we know the provider role Harry plays for this England team, even when he is not scoring himself. But watching him against the United States, it was clear something wasn't right. 

"He came through that scare about his ankle before the US game but, after playing a big part in an impressive team performance in the Iran game with two assists, he looked very tired and very leggy to me.

"It might be time to think about getting him right for the knockout stages, and I have a sneaky feeling Callum Wilson might come in to face Wales on Tuesday instead.

"England need to freshen things up anyway, to get the feel-good factor back after the disappointment of our draw with the US, and restore a bit of confidence."

England were fortunate to escape with a point against the USA on Friday, with Southgate raising eyebrows by keeping Phil Foden on the bench.

Shearer added: "I can understand why Gareth stuck with the same team that had stuck six goals past Iran. But, after that, I can't see him doing the same again in our final game in Group B.

"After the euphoria of our first game, everyone was expecting, wanting and hoping that it would be a similar story against the US. It wasn't, it was actually really flat.

"You have to give great credit to the US, because they stopped us from playing, as well as playing well themselves.

"But of course, it was disappointing that we were not able to change the direction of the game with the attacking options we had on the bench.

"I was quite surprised one or two players did not come on at half-time because we were playing poorly. Our plan wasn't working and one or two players looked tired.

"There are going to be games at this tournament where, for whatever reason, we need to change our personnel or tactics, or both, to try to win them."

Despite their disappointing display, England would seal top spot in Group B with victory over a Wales side that that must win to have any chance of progressing.

And Shearer is confident a similarly positive display to that in the opening game against Iran will get Southgate's side back on track.

"The last team to go through a World Cup and win all seven games was Brazil, 20 years ago," he stated.

"Everyone who goes deep into the tournament usually hits a bump in the road during the group stage and, while that performance wasn't great, we are still in a very strong position.

"I'd really expect us to beat Wales and go through as winners of our group, which was always the aim.

"It won't be easy, of course. Wales' situation means they have to win to have any chance of getting out of the group, and then you have the rivalry you encounter whenever the home nations play each other which adds another element to the game.

"It's pretty obvious what I want to see now - the same attacking outlook, ideas and energy we showed in the Iran game. If we do that, we will be back on track for the next part of this World Cup."

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