World Cup Group B preview

11 days until the World Cup kicks off! We’re continuing our preview series with a look at Group B. If you haven’t yet, join our World Cup predictor challenge at Fotmob.

World Cup Previews

GROUP A


England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 (FIFA Ranking: 5)

How they got here

England were one of the top sides in Europe during qualifying. They were undefeated in their 10 match group, winning eight and drawing just twice. Along the way, they scored a whopping 39 goals and only conceded three.

After losing to Italy on penalty kicks in the Euro 2020 final, they’ve proven themselves as one of the top sides in world football. The young, talented group that carried them through the Euros is more established and experienced. On paper, this side is scary.

The outlook

Like many teams at the World Cup, this side is dealing with plenty of injuries. Manchester City duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips are both pushing to be fit before the tournament begins, as are Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka and Chelsea fullback Reece James. Playmaker Emile Smith-Rowe recently had groin surgery, which is all but certain to keep him out, while left back Ben Chillwell was forced out of Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb with a nasty-looking hamstring injury.

This is England. There’s still an otherworldly amount of talent in the squad, and while some key players are out, let’s not pretend that their replacements are some random scrubs. Marcus Rashford, Callum Wilson, James Maddison and Ivan Toney have all looked worthy of a place in recent weeks.

Under head coach Gareth Southgate, this side has played almost exclusively out of a back five, and it’s… not the most exciting. England took plenty of flack from the media for their conservative approach to Euro 2020. At best it was ponderous; at worst it was downright boring. England clearly have all the talent to win the World Cup, but they consistently underperform. If they can put it together in Qatar, they have the potential to win their first World Cup since 1966.

Key players

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Phil Foden (Manchester City), John Stones (Manchester City), Declan Rice (West Ham United), Mason Mount (Chelsea)

Predicted XI (3-4-3)

Jordan Pickford; John Stones, Eric Dier, Harry Maguire; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Luke Shaw; Phil Foden, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling

Predicted group finish

1st.

This team can be a slow starter and despite their talent, they haven’t been particularly dynamic or fun to watch.

Fun to watch is overrated in tournaments, though. They have a deep squad and have performed well on the international stage. They’re the favorites to win the group, and it would be one of the all-time great failures if they don’t advance.

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+700 


Iran 🇮🇷 (FIFA Ranking: 20)

How they got here

Iran topped Group A in AFC Qualifying, winning eight, drawing one and losing just once. While not as spectacular as England’s record, they finished with a respectable +11 goal difference and 25 points, the best record of any Asian side.

The outlook

They’ve been called an “unknown” by players and coaches from other Group B sides, but they’re a pretty well-known commodity. And they’re pretty good, too. Head coach Carlos Queiroz (yeah, the same guy who coached Portugal and Real Madrid and assisted at Manchester United) has this team set up in a pragmatic 4-1-4-1. They’re not afraid to sit deep and play against the ball, and they have more than enough weapons to be dangerous on the break.

While they have their share of domestic players in the squad, their top-end talent plies their trade in Europe. Forward Sardar Azmoun is a starter at Bayer Leverkusen. Winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh is at Feynoord. Saman Goddos is at Brentford. While not necessarily the upper echelons of European football, they have dynamic attackers and a solid structure. They’re more than capable of taking England or the United States off guard, and are the dark horse of the group.

Politically, Iran is in turmoil, and that’s carried over to the national team. After the death of Mahsa Amini, killed by Iranian police for wearing an “improper” hijab, at least 277 people have been killed by police in the resulting protests. 

Sardar Azmoun publicly sided with the protesters, at the risk of being exiled ahead of the World Cup. When asked if his statements could end his chances of playing in Qatar, he said “that is worth sacrificing for one strand of Iranian women’s hair”. The political unrest may have a negative effect on the team, or it could be even more motivation for them to perform and provide a needed boost for the country.

Key players

Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), Mehdi Taremi (Porto), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), Majid Hosseini (Kayserispor), Ehsan Hajsafi (AEK Athens)

Predicted XI (4-1-4-1)

Amir Abedzadeh; Sadegh Moharrami, Morteza Pouraliganji, Majid Hosseini, Milad Moharrami; Saied Ezatolahi; Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Saman Ghoddos, Ahmad Nourollahi, Ehsan Hajsafi; Sardar Azmoun

Predicted group finish

3rd.

They might surprise some teams in Qatar, particularly Wales, but I don’t think they have the talent or experience to advance from the group. Their match against the United States on the final day of the group stage could be a winner-take-all meeting.

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+50000


United States 🇺🇸(FIFA Ranking: 16)

How they got here

After missing the 2018 World Cup, the United States are back. They finished third in Concacaf with 25 points and a +11 goal difference. It wasn’t the smoothest qualifying campaign, but hey… anything’s better than their last attempt.

The outlook

The term “golden generation” gets thrown around a lot for this group. That’s premature. Sure, there are more players playing at the highest levels of European football than ever before from this pool, but this isn’t the culmination. It’s just the start of a long process that began with MLS’s heavy investment into their academy system and the ripple effect it had throughout U.S. soccer.

Gregg Berhalter started his tenure with a rigid and detailed system that was probably too rigid and detailed for the international level, but he’s simplified how he wants his team to play. While the last year has had a fair amount of uninspiring results, they’ve played well in the biggest games; beating Mexico in the Nations League and Gold Cup finals, for example. There are questions about how they’ll perform against World Cup opponents, but the ceiling of this team is high.

Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Giovanni Reyna highlight their new crop of attacking talent, anchored by Tyler Adams at the base of midfield. Walker Zimmerman emerged almost out of nowhere in 2021 to nail down a starting spot in the back, although who will partner him is still a fairly open question. This is still a young, untested team, with DeAndre Yedlin likely the only member of the team with prior World Cup experience.

Key players

Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Predicted XI (4-3-3)

Matt Turner; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Antonee Robinson; Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie; Timothy Weah, Jesús Ferreira, Christian Pulisic

Predicted group finish

2nd.

Despite some lethargic showings in 2022, this is a talented and dynamic young squad who punch above their weight and finally have the skill to really compete on the World Stage. It’s probably a cycle too early for this group to make a deep run, but they should be more than capable of advancing.

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+10000 


Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿(FIFA Ranking: 19)

How they got here

Wales finished second in Group E with 15 points from eight games, advancing to the playoff round of qualifying. They beat Austria 2-1 in the semifinals before beating Ukraine 1–0 in a tight and emotional final, qualifying for their first World Cup since 1958, 64 years ago.

The outlook

While they haven’t qualified for a World Cup in 64 years, they’ve been more than decent at the last two European Championships. The Dragons made a surprise run to the semifinals of Euro 2016 and advanced to the Round of 16 in 2020. Rob Page will man the helm after Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs’ undignified exit in the wake of a domestic abuse scandal.

This isn’t a young group. 33-year-old superstar Gareth Bale is the highlight of the team, but there are questions around his fitness after joining Los Angeles FC in the summer and only playing sporadically. Aaron Ramsey has only played a handful of minutes for French outfit Nice. The 31-year-old was once the catalyst for the Welsh midfield, but may not be able to orchestrate midfield like he’s done in years past. 32-year-old Joe Allen is a fixture in midfield, and Spezia defender/midfielder Ethan Ampadu has established himself as an option to partner him.

Page’s 4-4-2 system relies on compact defending and pace on the counter. Fulham winger Daniel James has electric speed, and is always a threat in open space, with Gareth Bale offered a free role in attack with Keifer Moore shouldering the target man role.

Key players

Gareth Bale (LAFC), Aaron Ramsey (Nice), Daniel James (Fulham), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Joe Rodon (Rennes), Wayne Hennessey (Nottingham Forrest)

Predicted XI (4-4-2)

Wayne Hennessey; Neco Williams; Joe Rodon, Ben Davies, Chris Gunter; Daniel James, Joe Allen, Ethan Ampadu, Tyler Roberts; Gareth Bale, Keifer Moore

Predicted group finish

4th.

This team certainly could surprise people and finish higher, even challenging to advance. Gareth Bale’s poor club form, the lack of dynamism in midfield, and no real shutdown defenders doesn’t seem like a great recipe for success, though.

Odds to win World Cup (via BetMGM)

+150000


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Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids.

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