With only a couple of months left until the World Cup kicks off, Gareth Southgate and his team are sure to be deep into their analysis of England’s opponents in Group B. England will face Iran, Wales and the USA in Qatar this winter and will be expected to come out as group winners, but could we see some shocks and spills? And will Wales get their hands on second place?
Read on to find out more about England’s World Cup group opponents…
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Wales have a useful mix of youth and experience in a team that we think could shock England.
Wales will be heading to the World Cup for only the second time in their history. They’ve failed to qualify since all the way back in 1958, so it’s understandable that the whole country erupted when they beat Ukraine in the final play-off to secure their place in Qatar. There’s likely to be even more passion, grit and Welsh fire in the group games, and their fixture against England on the 29th November is one of the standout match-ups of the first three rounds of games.
Despite ranking 18th in the world, Wales do have a reputation of being reliant on one man – Gareth Bale. The boy from Cardiff is now approaching 34, so Qatar does feel like a last chance saloon for him to help Wales into the latter stages of the tournament.
Wales do still lean heavily on Bale for goals especially, but manager Rob Page has inspired a hugely positive atmosphere in the Wales dressing room, with young players having just as much responsibility on and off the pitch as their more experienced teammates. Page has said multiple times that he wants his Wales team to be fearless and adventurous during games, with creative licence in midfield, pace on the wings and advanced full-backs. In Qatar you can expect to see the team press from the front, with aggressive interceptions and tackles from Kieffer Moore up front back to Joe Rodon at centre back.
If their key players stay fit, and Page stays true to his positive mentality, we reckon Wales have a great shot at progressing through Group B. They’ll certainly have the whole country behind them, and there’s not much more impressive than a passionate Welsh fan – just check out this incredible speech from Michael Sheen!
Key Players: Gareth Bale, Ben Davies, Kieffer Moore
World Ranking: 18
Top Current Goalscorer: Gareth Bale
Best WC Performance: QF (1958)
USA today have the depth and quality to compete with the best.
Soccer or football? Whatever they call it, the US have a quality young team, and they look like they could cause some real problems to the other sides in Group B. ‘Captain America’ AKA Christian Pulisic is the USSMT’s poster boy, but they’ve got quality throughout the ranks like Weston Mckennie, Gio Reyna and Tyler Adams in midfield, Sergiño Dest and Antonee Robinson at the back plus Zack Steffen in goal.
The US is often thought to be one of the newest footballing nations, with modern ‘soccer’ really only taking off following the formation of the MLS in 1993 – but they have been ranked as high as fourth in the world, and actually made the Semi-Finals of the 1930 World Cup. Even so, many pundits feel that the national team have often struggled to find a solid tactical identity. Their playing style has often focussed on strength, stamina and pace, rather than technical prowess, but a new generation of American footballers who have both mental and physical attributes are emerging.
We think we’ll see the USA surprising England with rapid counter-attacks and clever through balls at the World Cup. They’ll be expected to beat Iran, but their key game will likely be against Wales as they push to make it through the group stages – and their young team could go far.
Key Players: Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, Weston McKennie
World Ranking: 14
Top Current Goalscorer: Christian Pulisic
Best WC Performance: Third Place (1930)
Iran could continue their incredible form into Group B at the World Cup.
Iran are likely to be seen as the weakest team in England’s group at the World Cup, but have a dangerous side on top form going to Qatar. They’ll go into the Group stages as the lowest-ranked team – and probably the least well known to UK viewers. This will be Iran’s third straight World Cup finals, having become the first Asian team to qualify for the tournament way back in January. They’ve never progressed past the group stages, and will be desperate to make it to the knockout rounds in Qatar.
Iran only lost one game in their final qualifying group in the run up to the tournament, and looked solid in games against South Korea and the UAE. They’ll be hoping Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Sardar Azmoun can continue their fine run of goalscoring at international level too, with the pair scoring 7 of Iran’s 15 in the final qualifying stage.
The Iranian national team has improved massively since the formation of the IPL – the first pro league in Iran – in 2000, and under returning coach Carlos Queiroz they, like the others in England’s group, could be prickly opponents. Queiroz has managed Portugal, Colombia, Egypt and Real Madrid, and stunned Uruguay in his first game back as Iran manager, beating them 1-0 at home. He’s an experienced, wily manager with a good win record, and might inspire flashes of brilliance from an Iranian side who looked to be on the up.
World Ranking: 22
Top Current Goalscorer: Sardar Azmoun
Best WC Performance: Group Stage (1978, 1998, 2006, 2014, 2018)