England’s World Cup campaign starts on Tuesday, as they open Group B with a match against Iran. It could be a tough game for the Three Lions, as their opponents will be more used to the conditions in Qatar and historically, England have struggled against teams that set up in a deep block. Carlos Queiroz won’t be afraid to set up negatively and look to frustrate their superior opposition. Iran have the attacking players to threaten on the counter attack and England can be vulnerable at the back. It will be a big test of Gareth Southgate’s side.
Although England will be heavy favourites, they could struggle against Iran if they don’t get an early goal. Hungary heavily beat England earlier this year. Iran could try to set up in a similar way. During that game, England were cut open too easily and that will be a fear of Southgate’s. Fans will be hoping to see England start with an extra attacker with four defenders, but Southgate prefers five at the back. That would be seen as very negative in this fixture. If he does choose to stick to five at the back, he could lose the support of the nation before a ball is even kicked.
There have been some question whether Iran should be playing at the World Cup, due to the political situation in the country. However, they will be lining up in Qatar and they will want to get through to the knockout rounds. Many seem to think it will be England and one of Wales or the USA, but Iran shouldn’t be written off too easily. Queiroz knows how to set up a team to be tough to break down. Earlier this year, they beat Uruguay in a friendly, showing that they can beat established nations. Their matches will be low margin and in the heat of Qatar, that could be beneficial for them.
England haven’t won a competitive fixture in over a year. Their last win came on 15th November 2021 against San Marino.
During their last four international matches, each game has seen two goals or less. That is a trend that is expected to continue for Iran during the tournament.
Harry Kane enters the World Cup as one of the most in form attackers in Europe. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Erling Haaland (18) and Robert Lewandowski (13) have scored more league goals than Harry Kane (12). The former won’t be at the World Cup, while Lewandowski isn’t playing for a nation expected to go deep in the competition. That means that Kane has a great chance of retaining the Golden Boot. He would become the first player to manage that. Although the focus will be on ensuring England go deep in the competition, their captain will have one eye on individual honours. Group B gives him a chance to score goals in every fixture, as England should be a dominant side in the group. In 2018, he managed to win the Golden Boot by scoring plenty during the group stages, including a hat-trick against Panama. The opening fixture against Iran will be seen as an opportunity for him to get on the score sheet early. In addition to his goal threat, Kane will look to drop deep and create chances for his team-mates. Iran’s stubborn style means that his creativity will be as important as his goal threat. The Tottenham striker is currently two goals behind Wayne Rooney in the all-time scoring charts. To become England’s all-time leading scorer at a World Cup would be a special achievement. That will motivate Kane.
Iran are not blessed with as much talent as the rest of the teams in Group B. However, one player they do have is Mehdi Taremi, who is currently plying his trade for Porto. This season has been an excellent one for him personally, as he has scored five goals in the Champions League and a further six in the domestic league. Only Mohamed Salah and Kylian Mbappe (both 7) have scored more than Taremi in the Champions League this season, showing that the Iran international belongs at the top of European football. At the age of 30, he is in the peak years of his career and he will be keen to do well at the World Cup. Iran aren’t fancied to go far, but their centre forward could cause problems for the other three teams in Group B. If Iran are to go far, they need Taremi to play well in Qatar.
James Maddison should be passed fit to play a part if he is called upon. Kyle Walker won’t be risked in the first match, as he builds up his match fitness. Kalvin Phillips won’t start, as he continues his recovery.
Sardar Azmoun is one of Iran’s key players and he faces a late fitness test.
England should have enough quality to break down a stubborn Iran side. Southgate’s selection in the first match will be interesting and it will set the tone for the tournament. If he chooses an extra attacking player, the optimism among the supporters will increase significantly. Although the Three Lions haven’t been at their best for the past 12 months, they have a lot of experience of getting deep into tournaments. They should be able to get through this group with relative ease. It is unlikely to be a great game to watch though.
England 2-0 Iran