One down, eight to go. There’s no time to waste with the World Cup only days away. Here’s the rundown of the strange Group B.
In a tournament full of exciting teams that the new generation has never seen in a World Cup, Wales seems to be one of the frontrunners on everyone’s secondhand support list. The hype is also deserved, and now in a tough group that features Iran, the U.S.A., and England, people still back them to make it out of the group.
The reality isn’t far from these predictions, however. This is Wales’ strongest side in the Gareth Bale era, featuring a now older Bale but a mix of excellent young talent and solid experience make them a decent prospect. The likes of Neco Williams, Daniel James, and Brennan Johnson all look to impress after years of being known as the future of Welsh football. Veterans like Aaron Ramsey and Kieffer Moore will look to do the same but also provide level-headedness on and off the pitch that will surely convert to positive football throughout the tournament. It is genuinely difficult to foresee a negative World Cup experience for Wales with the balance this squad has mentally and technically.
Make-Or-Break for Southgate and England
The woes of Gareth Southgate’s England squad have been well-documented since their loss to Iceland in the Euros back in 2016, but despite the constant onslaught from fans, the Three Lions have always performed relatively well since. A semi-finals finish in 2018 followed by losing on penalties in the finals of the 2020 Euros to Italy is heartbreaking but the progress is there. The only issue is that this theoretically should be the final step to success if it’s all linear.
While the football is played on the pitch, the focus is still on Southgate. England’s sudden surge in talent doesn’t help either as many big-name players were snubbed from his squads such as Ivan Toney and Fikayo Tomori in favor of more conservative players to fit his three center-half system. The front line and midfield still look great and many of them are in form currently but if England crashes out before the quarter-finals without any adjustment from the English manager, it may be an ugly winter.
Iran’s Next Step
Amidst a big group where the focus seems to be on England’s managerial pressure, Wales’ first World Cup appearance in over 60 years, and the U.S.’ return to the big stage, fans seem to be overlooking Iran and their strong squad that looks to advance to the knock-outs. The chances are much better than people would like to admit but the Iranian national team can cause an upset and make history in Qatar.
Group B is definitely the “big name” group of this year’s World Cup in terms of having players from even the smaller countries being household names, but beyond Mehdi Taremi and Sardar Azmoun, Iran’s well-rounded squad and defensive solidity can get them through fast games where the opposition may be on the front foot. The focus will still be on the forwards of course, as Taremi has been excellent for Porto in all competitions and Azmoun has established himself as a regular for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany but this squad can compete comfortably in this group. Don’t be shocked if we see them advance for the first time in their history to the knock-outs.
Pressure Already for the U.S.
One would imagine that a return to the World Cup after a long and embarrassing four years since 2018 in Russia would be filled with excitement and buzz from the fans. Their team looks younger than ever, there’s a huge variety of players in Europe, and this can be used as a stepping stone towards 2026 when everyone is older and hopefully better. The reality for fans is that manager Gregg Berhalter and his squad have immense pressure to perform, which can prove to be difficult and unfair to deal with.
The team itself is quite enjoyed by fans but Berhalter has faced criticism often throughout qualifications. From a close finish at the end to actually making it to Qatar, playing players like Jesus Ferreira in the wrong position over more established players, and poor results against stronger CONCACAF sides give the American coach a feeling of skepticism heading into Qatar this winter. The attack still is very exciting, sporting a frontline of Christian Pulisic, Timothy Weah, and Gio Reyna but a misuse of that can see another Group B gaffer on the hot seat.