I’ve looked forward to this article assignment with much excitement — Group B includes England, my own country’s national team. It’s true that concerns surrounding fitness and form have sapped some of their confidence, but the Three Lions are still heavily favoured to win the group.
Nevertheless, USA, Wales and Iran make up a competitive trio that will have something to say about that, and all three will fancy their chances of progressing to the knockout round.
Let’s run the rule over each of these four teams, and identify some fantasy assets that could warrant your interest.
FIFA ranking: 5th
Manager: Gareth Southgate
Qualified via: Winning qualification Group
2018 World Cup result: Semi Final (lost to Croatia)
With manager and players having reached the World Cup 2018 semi-final and the Euro 2020 final, Gareth Southgate takes his side into the 2022 World Cup with a whole load of boxes ticked:
- Star forward Harry Kane is fit and scoring goals.
- Injuries to the typical starting 11 are limited, with only Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips likely out or lacking match fitness. Talented match-winning youngsters Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham are fit, available and in-form.
- Once again coming into a tournament under the leadership of Southgate, there are no stories of trouble in the camp and there remains a strong connection between manager and players.
- The squad members have tournament experience. And crucially...
- This World Cup doesn’t come at the end of a long Premier League season grind, a reason previously given for England’s tendency to run out of steam in summer competitions.
Despite this, England does not head into World Cup Qatar with “England expects” hanging over its shoulders. In fact, expectations are restrained, and frankly that is a result of poor form. England topped a very weak qualification group, winning eight and drawing two in the 10 games, Poland and Hungary both taking points off the Lions. But England’s League of Nations results were terrible, finishing bottom of a group containing Italy, Hungary, and Germany. In the six games, they failed to win, and in five of them they failed to score from open play. The worst result was a humiliating 4-0 home defeat to Hungary, surely Southgate’s lowest moment as manager.
Post-Euro 2020, the hope was that Southgate would take the handbrake off his side, blend in his extremely promising youngsters, and find a system to suit more attack-minded players such as Bellingham, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Foden, Saka, Reece James, and Jack Grealish, among others. That hasn’t happened, and it will remain Southgate’s greatest challenge post-World Cup.
Instead, Southgate will stick to a trusted corps playing 4-4-2 against weaker sides and 3-4-3 against stronger ones. Regardless of club form, Harry Maguire, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw are guaranteed starters, and if fit, so is Walker. Walker is crucial to Southgate’s plan with his extreme acceleration compensating for the side’s overall sluggish defense and occasional lack of concentration.
The group draw has been kind to the Lions. Iran will park the bus and play on the counter, while the young American side will give England something of a test before game three sees an all-UK battle with Wales. England is strongly fancied to take seven if not all nine points from the three group stage games.
Southgate’s England sides have gone deeper in tournaments than many before them, but as with most England teams, they tend to hit a wall against the first quality side they play. Set up in a defense-first mindset, the players are extremely familiar with their roles. They will be hard to beat, and they have one of the few genuine world-class center forwards in the competition in Harry Kane. Players like Saka, Sterling, Foden and Bellingham also have match-winning talent.
As an England fan, I don’t expect us to win the whole thing: Sadly, I don’t think it’s coming home. But I hold out hope that, at some point during the upcoming four weeks, there will be events that suddenly give me the impression I could be wrong.
United States of America
FIFA ranking: 16th
Manager: Gregg Berhalter
Qualified via: 3rd in qualification Group
2018 World Cup result: Did not qualify
While England is coming to the end of a cycle, the US side is at the beginning of one. As hosts of the 2026 World Cup, this tournament is a big building block towards their success in four years’ time. It comes off the back of their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the subsequent decision made to put faith in the squad’s young players.
Previous US sides defended deep, were hard-working, and focused on not conceding goals. The 2022 version is different; young, athletic, aggressive, and optimistic. The manager trusts their talent, and they will be unafraid to take the game to more powerful sides. USMNT has invested a huge amount of time and money to produce a side that can compete, and the signs indicate that they have the potential to do that.
Sergio Dest, AC Milan (22), Chris Richards, Crystal Palace (22), Antonee Robinson, Fulham (25), Tyler Adams, Leeds (23), Weston McKennie, Juventus (24), Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United (22), Jesus Ferreira FC Dallas (21), Giovanni Reyna , Dortmund (20), and Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (24) are just some of the youngsters available for Berhalter to select. This is a generation of players who can develop together. On the negative side, they seem to lack obvious leaders, and there remains doubt about exactly which players make up Berhalter’s best 11.
Against England the side is expected to favor a high press, while against Wales and Iran we’re likely to see a more possession-based approach. The US will hope to qualify through to the knockouts and will enjoy playing England on November 25th (it will definitely be Black Friday for someone!). Most of all, the Americans want to banish the memory of failed qualification in 2018 so they can build towards their host duties in four years’ time.
FIFA ranking: 19th
Manager: Rob Page
Qualified via: playoff win over Ukraine
2018 World Cup result: Did not qualify
Wales made these World Cup finals the hard way, and in doing so gave talisman Gareth Bale what is likely to be his swan song as an international player. After finishing second in the qualification group, it took playoff wins over Austria and Ukraine for Wales to punch its ticket to its first World Cup since 1958. That man Bale scored both goals in the 2-1 win over Austria, as well as the only goal in the 1-0 win over Ukraine.
Clearly Gareth isn’t the player he once was, but as seen in the playoff games he remains a match-winner in the right setting. He can inspire and lead a flexible Welsh side in a group where Wales does have a chance to progress. The opening game against the US is huge for both teams; it can set the tone for their campaign to survive to the knockout rounds. Regardless, should the Dragons win their final-day fixture against the Three Lions, they will go down in history. That’s quite the motivational target for any Welsh player!
FIFA ranking: 20th
Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Qualified via: AFC third round Group A winners
2018 World Cup result: Group stage elimination
Although the Iranians are lowest-ranked in the group, they won’t be easy for any of their opponents. Now serving his second stint as their manager, Carlos Queiroz is well-suited to structuring a highly-organized, defense-focused side. We can expect him to play a low block with an eye toward fast counter attacks with a lively front line.
The squad holds plenty of experience, a number having played in 2018 when they were eliminated in the group stage but gave the big boys a scare. Iran held much-fancied Portugal to a 1-1 draw, beat Morocco 1-0, and lost to Spain 1-0 — a remarkable set of results and a real sign of progress.
Iran has a handful of exciting attacking players lead by Porto star Mehdi Taremi. Taremi is in his prime, with 28 goals in 60 international appearances plus 32 goals in his last 45 club games. Alongside Taremi, Bayern Leverkusen’s “Iranian Messi” Sardar Azmoun (41 goals in 65 international games) will need to prove his fitness. The final headache for opposition defenses is Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Jahanbakhsh currently plays for Feyenoord, but you may be more familiar with him from his 2019 to 2021 spell at Brighton. If fit, this trio can cause problems — They could make a slow English defense that lacks Kyle Walker look very vulnerable.
Iran is a very real banana-skin for England if the Three Lions come into the group’s opening fixture lacking focus. Indeed, Team Melli will not be intimidated by any of their 2022 group stage draws. Queiroz and his men will fancy their chances of going into the group’s final game against the US with all to play for.
Group B Fantasy Targets
Right off the bat, Harry Kane, perhaps the only world-class player in the England squad, is an obvious fantasy option. Having said that, this is an England side that is well out of form, and $11m for a player in a team that is struggling to create from open play seems excessive.
Better value may be found in Raheem Sterling. In all honesty his form shouldn’t even see him starting, and yet he has the 100% faith of Southgate, meaning he will. The gaffer’s tactic of dropping Kane deep to support Sterling worked well in the Euros, so we will see similar patterns of play in the World Cup. Sterling isn’t anywhere near as exciting as Kane, but priced at just $8.5m he could be the better pick. And assuming Walker remains out, then Kieran Tripper at $5m will tempt, as any Fantasy Premier League fan can tell you.
Aaronson at $6m is an interesting proposition. Watching him play for Leeds, he is an ever-improving player, and his energy and movement will be needed against the organized defenses the Americans will face.
Gareth Bale has been classified as a forward and will set you back $8m. Since he now plays his club football in the US, there will be a few Stars-and-Stripes fans who will find themselves in a conundrum over rooting for him. He has always been a big-match, big-occasions guy, and while there doesn’t seem to be much of the prime Bale left, he still offers fantasy potential. Beware though: With the tight turnaround between fixtures, I think it’s very possible he starts only fixtures in MD-1 and MD-3 even if fit.
As I mentioned, that opening fixture between England and Iran is a potential banana skin. It would not surprise me to see Iran take advantage of England’s issues with form and fitness to pinch a draw or even more. We saw four years ago that Team Melli can be very competitive. At $4.5m Azmoun is a great enabler for your squads. If he flops then you can easily sub him out later in the matchday since he plays the first game in Group B.
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How do you see Group B unfolding? Will England cruise through or struggle? Will Iran play spoiler? Will the US survive to the knockouts? Will Gareth Bale go out on a high note? Please log in, take our poll, and share your thoughts in the comments!
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