Group by Group Guide

Group B Preview: England expect and Wales dream in tricky, politically-charged group

Next in our series is a guide to Group B featuring England, Wales, USA, and Iran.


How did they get here?  

England qualified as group winners, ahead of Poland, Albania, and Hungary, with no side in Europe matching their haul of 39 goals. (Admittedly helped by the fact 15 goals in two meetings with San Marino.) 

Who is their manager?

Gareth Southgate is still in charge, having been ushered into the role beneath the fugue of the covert recording of Sam Allardyce’s loose-jawed, pint-of-wine conversation. A World Cup semi-final, a painful Euros final, and innumerable admirable political stances later, Southgate will be remembered as one of the most successful and consequential England managers ever. Qatar offers him the chance to become Alf Ramsey’s only counterpart in that history. 

How do they play? 

Southgate is a pragmatist who has put a greater emphasis on defence than attack, which is canny in general terms but perhaps not perfectly-tailored for the make-up of his squad, which is stacked with attacking talent but light on defensive steel.

Southgate spent the Euros swapping between a back three and a back four and continued to so during an appalling Nations League, which raised questions as to whether Southgate has brought England as far as he can. The fightback to draw 3-3 with Germany on the final day raised a flicker of hope that there may be some road left to run.

The 4-0 loss at home to Hungary has seen Southgate shift slightly more towards a 3-4-3. An issue with playing three centre-backs is that England lack quality options, especially if Kyle Walker isn’t fit. John Stones can deputise there, but Southgate bastion Harry Maguire has slipped to fourth-choice at Manchester United.  

world-cup-teams-file-photos Harry Kane. PA PA

Who is their key player? 

England have so many excellent players, but the most important of all remains the captain and main goalscorer, Harry Kane. 

Who is their potential breakout star of this World Cup? 

Jude Bellingham of Borussia Dortmund has forced his way into the England midfield and, yes, is completely brilliant. He has been long-coveted by Liverpool, who may see his valuation rise game-by-game in Qatar. 

Any injury concerns? 

Plenty, many of them concentrated at full/wing back. Chelsea pair Reece James and Ben Chilwell are out – Southgate has always trusted James more than Chilwell – while there are concerns about Man City duo Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips, both of whom are key men for Southgate, but have been included despite not being match-fit. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

England have an absurd amount of attacking talent, made the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and were agonisingly close to winning the Euros. They had somewhat cushy draws in those competitions and they might have had a tougher opening path in this World Cup too, where a Mane-less Senegal would be a much less daunting last-16 opponent. France look the biggest stumbling block in any potential run to the final this time around. Ultimately, success will be winning the World Cup and failure to make it to the semi-finals would be a huge disappointment. The issue is the defence: Harry Maguire’s match-sharpness has now dropped as low as his confidence, and England cannot afford for him to underperform in Qatar. Southgate has said he is willing to stake his reputation on Maguire, which is one hell of a risk for a manager thus far defined by sensible, pragmatic conservatism. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘England’s attack is good enough to win the World Cup but their defence is not, so Southgate may regret his conservatism and the risky move of yoking himself to Harry Maguire.’   


How did they get here?

Wales dashed Ukraine’s dreams by knocking them out of the play-offs, using that route having finished second behind annual opponents Belgium in the group phase of qualifying and a point ahead of Czech Republic. 

Who is their manager? 

Rob Page was working as Ryan Giggs’ assistant when Giggs was arrested and charged with assault, at which point Page took interim charge. Giggs resigned as manager in June this year, and Page was given the job full-time. Having led Wales to a first World Cup since 1958, he put pen to, eh, page on a new contract through to 2026. 

How do they play? 

Wales remain a functional team elevated to tournament-standard by the individual brilliance of Gareth Bale and, to a slightly lesser extent, Aaron Ramsey. Page favours a 5-3-2, with Bale the centre-piece of the attack. He is often partnered by Daniel James, whose pace helps create space for the main man. Kiefer Moore offers a different, target-man option, while Brennan Johnson of Nottingham Forest offers a wildcard role off the bench. 

world-cup-teams-file-photos Gareth Bale. PA PA

Who is their key player?

No prizes for guessing this one: Gareth Bale. He may have been dogged by injury and hounded by the Spanish press during his time at Real Madrid, but few players consistently deliver in big games as often as Bale. He is winding down his club career in America now with LA FC, with whom he won the MLS Cup prior to the World Cup.

That love of the spotlight’s glare hasn’t ebbed away, mind. He came off the bench in that final to score a 128th-minute, extra time equaliser, forcing the shootout in which his side triumphed.

Who is their potential break-out star? 

Bale and Ramsey are in their twilight but Wales have not stopped producing attacking talent, and Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson has the raw material to become Wales’ go-to man when Bale finally steps away. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Joe Allen is doing everything he can to be fit for the World Cup and has been included in the squad as a “special case” as he recovers from a hamstring issue. If he doesn’t make it, Joe Morrell of League One’s Portsmouth is the likeliest deputy at the base of midfield. There is a separate concern over Bale’s match-fitness as he has completed a full 90 minutes just once since June. Page has admitted he doesn’t know whether Bale will be fit to play all three group games.

What are their realistic ambitions? 

This is Wales’ first World Cup since 1958, which marks the longest gap between appearances in the competition’s history. Qualification is thus a major achievement and has been a thrilling one too, given the sense of identity and journey cultivated en route. Wales, now run by former LOI goalkeeper and ex-interim FAI CEO Noel Mooney, have taken some inspiration from Bohemians in the League of Ireland to sell a very clear and unifying identity, with heavy emphasis on the Welsh language.

They are expected to officially change their name to Cymru after the tournament and their official song, ‘Yma o hyd’, is a song of defiance about the survival of the Welsh language. Getting out of the group would be a triumph for Wales, and given the momentum they have generated for themselves, it should not be ruled out. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Wales show the potential for a workmanlike squad with two world-class players but don’t worry I’m totally over the whole Declan Rice and Jack Grealish situation.’ 


How did they get here? 

The US squeezed into the third and final qualification spot in the last spot of the Concacaf table, finishing ahead of Costa Rica on goal difference, rendering their final-day loss to their closest rivals moot. 

Who is their manager? 

Greg Berhalter spent the 2001/02 season at Crystal Palace, and he became the club’s first representative at the World Cup when he stepped out for the US in Japan and South Korea. It was there he became a protagonist of infamy, where US made it to the quarter-finals and met Germany, losing 1-0 and missing out on a semi-final against South Korea.

It might all have been very different, though, had the referee not missed a blatant handball on the goal-line by Torsten Frings, his only means of keeping out Berhalter’s close-range shot.

Berhalter first went into coaching in Sweden with Hammarby, but was fired after two years, his style deemed too defensive. He moved back to the States to take charge of Columbus Crew, and, he took the national team job  after the US failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. 

How do they play? 

Berhalter favours a 4-3-3, which suits their abundance of wide attackers, namely Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, and Timothy Weah (son of George). Berhalter’s squad is young – theirs was the third-lowest average age in qualifying and the lowest of any team to qualify for the World Cup.

soccer-jun-05-usa-v-uruguay Christian Pulisic. Nick Tre. Smith Nick Tre. Smith

Who is their key player? 

Christian Pulisic’s time at Chelsea has underwhelmed thus far, but he is the States’ main attacker.

Who is their potential breakout star of this World Cup? 

Gio Reyna, whose father Claudio went to three World Cups with the US, has recovered from long-term injury and has been influential in an attacking midfield role for Borussia Dortmund this season. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Yes and, what’s worse, they have generally been concentrated at centre-back. First-choice Miles Robinson is out, with 20-year-old Chris Richards of Crystal Palace also injured. The US may become reliant on Celtic’s Cameron Carter-Vickers stepping up to fill the void. There is also a worry about Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, who has been named in the squad. 

What are their realistic ambitions?

The US flopped in failing to qualify for 2018, missing out for the first time since 1986, with defender DeAndre Yedlin describing this as the “revenge tour” for missing out last time. Only twice between 1990 and 2014 did they fail to progress beyond the group stage, but their young side will be hard-pressed to do so in Qatar. Making it to the last-16 would be the mark of a very good tournament.

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘This is a young USA side whom we might not see at their best until they co-host the World Cup in 2026.’ 


How did they get here? 

Iran began qualifying as the top-ranked side in Asia and made it to Qatar with relative ease, topping a group ahead of Iraq in the first phase of qualifying before repeating the trick in the next group phase, finishing two points clear of South Korea. 

Since qualifying, the Ukraine FA have written to Fifa calling for Iran to be kicked out of the tournament, claiming Russia have used Iranian-made drones during the invasion of Ukraine. Politically, Iran is quite closely allied with Qatar, so it may be no surprise to hear that Fifa have done the square root of nothing in response to that call by Ukraine. 

Beyond even that issue, the intertwining of football with politics will be most obvious with Iran at this World Cup. Iran have never competed at a World Cup so close to home, which has been roiling with protest since Mahsa Amini died in custody, having been arrested by the country’s morality police for ‘unsuitable attire.’ Protests have been met by a fierce crackdown by the ruling regime, with hundreds of people reported to have been killed. In the context of the World Cup, some protestors have disavowed the national team as representative of the ruling regime rather than the people of Iran, and there will be a focus on whether players choose to speak out.

soccer-2015-asian-cup-group-c-uae-v-iran-brisbane-stadium Carlos Quieroz. AAP / PA Images AAP / PA Images / PA Images

Who is their manager? 

No World Cup is complete without Carlos Queiroz popping up to bore us to tears, and Group B is his stage in 2022. It’s quite remarkable that he’s back on the sideline this time. Having coached Portugal in 2010 and Iran in 2014 and 2018, he took a job with Colombia ahead of this World Cup.

He was quickly sacked when results were so bad as to kill qualification early, and so Querioz took a job with Egypt, who then sacked him after they failed to qualify. So having failed twice to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, he was re-appointed as Iran manager, after Mehdi Taj was elected as president of the football federation on a pledge to bring Queiroz back.

Roy Keane will be in Qatar doing punditry for ITV: no doubt he’ll be thrilled to see his old coach yet again. 

How do they play? 

Quieroz has had two friendly games since returning ahead of this World Cup, and reverted to the 4-1-4-1 he used in Brazil and Russia. They didn’t make it out of the group on either occasion but conceded more than one goal once in six games, drawing 1-1 with Portugal in 2018 and beaten only by a 91st-minute Lionel Messi goal against Argentina in 2014. Expect their games to be defined as our old friend, an intriguing tactical battle.

Who is their star player? 

Sardar Azmoun of Bayer Leverkusen was Iran’s top scorer in qualifying, but his turbulent lead-in to the tournament distills that of his country. After a national team training camp in October, he returned to his club in Germany and spoke out against the regime on Instagram. “Because of the national team rules we couldn’t say anything until the camp was over. But I couldn’t bear it anymore. At worst I’ll be dismissed from the national team. No problem. I’d sacrifice that for one hair on the heads of Iranian women.”

He promised not to delete the post but, days later, he did. “I have to apologise to the players of the national team, because my hasty action caused my dear friends to be annoyed, and some players of the national team were insulted by users, which is not fair in any way. The mistake was mine.” And to add to all of this, he has been struggling with injury, so the doubt as to his participation has multiple layers.  

Who might be their breakout star of this World Cup? 

Forward Mehdi Taremi has been linked with Arsenal in the past and has averaged a goal every two games since joining Porto in 2020, and has almost matched that ratio in 60 games for Iran. He will play off the wing if Azmoun is fit, and will be the centre-forward if he’s absent. 

Have they any injury concerns? 

Azmoun is the biggest worry, though the latest update is that he is expected to be available. Queiroz has also hit out at Qatari club Al-Ahli for not allowing their players Shoja Khalilzadeh and Hossein Kananizadegan to join the national training camp in October. The Qatari league shutdown in September to aid the national team’s preparations and, according to Queiroz, all other international players were released bar the duo called up to play for Iran. 

What are their realistic ambitions? 

Iran failed to get out of the group in 2014 and 2018 but were competitive in every game, stirring hopes that this might be the year for progression from the group phase for the first time ever. 

What should I say if I draw them in the office sweepstake? 

‘Iran will be a horrible team to play against and probably equally horrible to watch, but they might just be good enough to sneak into second spot of what is a relatively egalitarian group beneath England.’


Group B Fixtures 

Monday November 21

  • England vs Iran; Khalifa International Stadium; KO 1pm
  • USA vs Wales; Ahmed bin Ali Stadium; KO 7pm

Friday November 25

  • Wales vs Iran; Ahmed bin Ali Stadium; KO 10am
  • England vs USA; Al Bayt Stadium; KO 7pm

Tuesday November 29

  • Wales vs England; Ahmed bin Ali Stadium; KO 7pm
  • Iran vs USA; Al Thumama Stadium; KO 7pm

 Read all of our group previews here.

For the latest news coverage on the Fifa World Cup Qatar 2022, see here >

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