our team-by-team guide to England’s group stage opponents



England could face a first-ever ‘Battle of Britain’ at a World Cup finals, after they were drawn against either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine in the group stage of this year’s tournament in Qatar.

Gareth Southgate’s side will kick off Group B on the opening day against Iran, a side they have never faced in a senior competitive international.

They will also face the United States, who have met twice in the World Cup finals – in 1950 and 2010 – but never beaten. Telegraph Sport takes a look at England’s five potential opponents in this year’s group stage – including how they qualified, their style of play and star men.

Iran

By Ben Bloom

Head-to-head record vs England

No previous meetings

How they qualified

Iran, the highest-ranked Asian team in the Fifa rankings, always expected to make it to the World Cup, but were handed an easier task with Qatar qualifying automatically as hosts.

They cruised through the first qualification stage with four victories – including a 14-0 drubbing of Cambodia – from six games, to advance to the trickier final group stage.

There they topped their group with eight wins from 10 matches, beating the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon twice each. Despite losing and drawing in their two fixtures against South Korea, they finished as group winners to ensure a third successive World Cup appearance.

How do they play?

Although happy to tinker with the make-up of his troops in the middle of the pitch, there were two constants in the way Iran manager Dragan Skocic set up his team throughout much of World Cup qualifying: a back four, and a lone target man (although the latter was often injury-enforced).

Taking the reins in 2020 after a hugely successful Carlos Queiroz tenure and a short, forgettable stint under Marc Wilmots, Skocic initially brought in a wealth of new talent, which he has since blended with more seasoned names.

His side’s greatest threat comes in their attacking talent, with center forward Sardar Azmoun somewhat erroneously dubbed the ‘Iranian Messi’ despite his 6ft 1in frame, which sees him particularly dangerous in the air. Azmoun has sometimes been paired with Porto striker Mehdi Taremi in recent years, although Skocic appears more likely to stick with one man up top against tougher opponents in Qatar, with Taremi dropping deeper.

While their defense is weak by international standards, Feyenoord midfielder Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Charleroi’s Ali Gholizadeh are dangerous main providers on the flanks.

Who is their starman?

Sardar Azmoun. Former Brighton midfielder Jahanbakhsh might be the most expensive Iranian player in the World Cup squad, but it is forward Azmoun who should hold most fear for Gareth Southgate and his team from him.

Linked with the likes of Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton during his career, the 27-year-old has a hugely impressive tally of 40 goals in 62 appearances for his country.

He has spent the majority of his career playing club football in Russia, with stints at Rubin Kazan, Rostov and Zenit St Petersburg. It was at Zenit that he made his name from him, scoring 62 goals in 104 games to earn a big move to German side Bayer Leverkusen this January.

USES

By Mike McGrath

Head-to-head record vs England

P11 W2 D1 L8

How they qualified

They lost their final match of qualification but by that time the hard work had been done. Gregg Berhalter’s team had put themselves in a position to finish in the places with a healthy points and goal difference advantage heading into that finale against Costa Rica. Earlier in the CONCACAF third round they had started with draws against El Salvador and Canada, before putting together a run of results to see them climb the table. They finished below Canada and Mexico but Costa Rica headed into a play-off and Jamaica, who had recruited Michail Antonio to help them get to Qatar, missed out altogether.

How do they play?

The emphasis in this USA team is youth. They will have one of the youngest average ages at the World Cup, with their squad for their last qualifiers containing no outfield players over the age of 28. With young legs, their style is a mix of elements that all good teams like to execute: their full-backs get forward with pace, they try to press opponents high up the pitch to force turnovers.

Their experience comes from players such as DeAndre Yedlin, who is by far the most experienced play with 73 caps, while the likes of Christian Pulisic has yet to reach 50 appearances. But with such inexperience in their ranks and no qualification in 2018, it is a mixed bag when it comes to their defined way of playing. But there is no doubt that their young players, such as teenagers Ricardo Pepi and Giovanni Reyna, have genuine raw talent.

Who is their starman?

There will be hopes of Christian Pulisic providing the creative spark for USA and unlocking England’s defense with his attacking runs. The Chelsea forward could be coming up against his team-mates Reece James and Ben Chilwell, who will know him well and what he is capable of. His position at Chelsea has been uncertain as he has not hit peak form this season but there is no doubt he can be a matchwinner.

Other players who will look to shine on the biggest stage include Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, while the steel in their midfield comes from Tyler Adams, who has attracted interest from Premier League clubs while playing for RB Leipzig.


www.telegraph.co.uk

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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