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Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

After months of anticipation, the world finally has clarity when it comes to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar after today’s group stage draw that took place in Doha. England, the number five-ranked nation according to the latest FIFA rankings, are unquestionably one of the pre-tournament heavyweights and Gareth Southgate’s men could be chomping at the bit after viewing the group stage draw.

England were presented with a fantastic chance of topping Group B while offering some intriguing matchups along the way after being drawn alongside the Islamic Republic of Iran, the United States, and the winner of the remaining European Playoff that pits Wales against the winner of Scotland vs Ukraine.

Though the Three Lions could be met with potential knockout stage opponents in the form of France or Argentina in the Quarterfinals, England should feel confident going into group play in Qatar despite their campaign kicking off just eight days after the Premier League comes to a pause.

Here are 101 Great Goals’ assessments of England’s group stage opponents, and what they can expect.

Islamic Republic of Iran (FIFA ranking: 21st)

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

TEHRAN, IRAN – OCTOBER 10: Iranian Players celebrate after sixth goal during FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Iran v Cambodia at Azadi Stadium on October 10, 2019 in Tehran, Iran. (Photo by Amin M. Jamali/Getty Images)

Head-to-head record: 0-0-0

England will go into the 2022 World Cup in Qatar having never come to grips with the Islamic Republic of Iran through any medium; friendly, or competitive. In that vein alone, it is hard to gauge whether or not Gareth Southgate will view Team Melli as a credible threat to their chances of progression of out Group B, but underestimating your opponent on the biggest stage has bitten quite a few hands.

Iran, to their credit, were the second-highest-scoring nation in AFC qualifying between rounds two and three (only Japan scored more goals), and certainly can boast a cadre of gifted attacking players that ply their trade in Europe’s top leagues while being in the top-25 of FIFA’s latest rankings and the highest-ranked nation to come out of Asia this cycle.

Star striker Sardar Azmoun (Bayer Leverkusen), Alireza Jahanbakhsh (Feyenoord Rotterdam), Saman Ghoddos (Brentford), and Mehdi Taremi (FC Porto) are all plying their trade at a high level, as are Belgian-based duo Ali Gholizadeh (Royal Charleroi SC), and Kaveh Rezaei (OH Leuven). England can certainly expect the aforementioned players to be capable of taking chances should they be given them, but Iran likely will not present the biggest threat to their chances of topping Group B.

United States (FIFA ranking: 15th)

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO – MARCH 24: The starting eleven of the United States pose for photos during a FIFA World Cup qualifier game between Mexico and United States at Azteca Stadium on March 24, 2022 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Head-to-head record: 8-1-2 | 39GF – 9GA – 73% win rate

The honor of “biggest threat” to England in Group B likely falls to the United States, and there is a hidden stat in their historic head-to-head record that certainly sets the stage for an intriguing storyline that could unfold in Qatar. Despite England running the rule over their former colony, the USMNT has had the last laugh in competitive fixtures between the pair, defeating England 1-0 during the 1950 World Cup as well as earning an unexpected 1-1 draw against the Three Lions in South Africa in 2010. But across their friendly fixtures, England have put the USA to the sword quite comfortably.

The reality, though, is that the United States are probably embarking on their true highwater mark when it comes to the level of talent that is in the player pool under former international Gregg Berhalter. Household names like star trio Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, and Sergiño Dest will headline the Stars & Stripes, but a wealth of budding talent can be called upon by the time winter rolls around. Starlet options the likes of Gio Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson, Yunus Musah, Konrad de la Fuente, Josh Sargent, Tanner Tessmann, Chris Richards, and Gianluca Busio highlight an incredibly bright future featuring players 21-years-old or younger that are all plying their trade in top European leagues at the time of writing.

The United States will undoubtedly look to make use of their attacking qualities when the two lock horns in Qatar, and their ability to hit opponents incredibly efficiently and effectively on the break courtesy of a side that boasts a great deal of pace could be a real threat to England in certain areas of the park. They cannot be underestimated by any means.

Wales (FIFA ranking: 18th)

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

CARDIFF, WALES – MARCH 24: Gareth Bale of Wales at full time of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier knockout round play-off match between Wales and Austria at Cardiff City Stadium on March 24, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Head-to-head record: 68-21-14 | 250GF – 91GA – 66% win rate

If resuming a rivalry (though hardly historic in terms of football) with the United States was not enough of a storyline for the 2022 World Cup for England, the potential of clashing with neighboring Wales adds yet another possible dynamic to an already interesting group that could offer up a handful of surprises on any given day. But thankfully for England and boss Gareth Southgate, the Three Lions have never lost to Wales in a competitive fixture across international tournaments or qualifying programs. In fact, Wales have only ever earned a single draw from eleven chances in that vein, but to their credit, Y Dreigiau always make it difficult for their larger neighbors.

Of their last five meetings, Wales have kept the scoreline to a one-goal difference in three, though they were put to the sword to the tune of a 3-0 loss back in October 2020. Despite their poor record against England, the Welsh have become one of those bugbear sides in international play that has earned a bit of a reputation as being a giant killer, which was on full display during their fairytale run to the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in what was their first appearance in that tournament. Should they reach Qatar, it will only be the second time they have managed to make the World Cup, but England will surely know what to expect. The bulk of the Welsh squad under Rob Page has previously or currently plies their trade in the English football pyramid, with the side highlighted by national footballing icons Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. And with the likes of Dan James, Ben Davies, Harry Wilson, Ethan Ampadu, and Connor Roberts sure to feature, that stubborn team game that Wales have championed is sure to be on display.

Ukraine (FIFA ranking: 27th)

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

ROME, ITALY – JULY 03: Andriy Shevchenko, Head Coach of Ukraine looks dejected after the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Ukraine and England at Olimpico Stadium on July 03, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Head-to-head record: 5-2-1 | 13GF – 3GA – 62.5% win rate

Many England fans will immediately think back to the 4-0 drubbing that Gareth Southgate’s high-flying Three Lions outfit put on Ukraine in the quarterfinals at Euro 2020, but going into that clash there were many that were fearful of what Andriy Shevchenko’s Blue and Yellow were capable of given previous meetings. Before that comfortable win, England had only managed a 1-2-1 record against Ukraine, which included two consecutive draws during qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.

There is no telling what Ukraine’s chances are of featuring in Qatar given the unjust invasion of their country by Russia in a war that continues to rage, but the potential of them qualifying for just their second appearance at the World Cup could be plenty of motivation on the back of representing their country during a continued time of turmoil. In what was their only appearance on the biggest stage back in 2006, Ukraine made the quarterfinals in Germany, but should they reach the winter showcase this year, will come with many questions indeed. They went undefeated in Group D along with France, but drew six of their eight matches and so nearly were beat out by Finland who only finished a point adrift. Goals, in addition, were a bit of a struggle to come by.

England will feel confident on the back of their Euro result, but Ukraine do have some up-and-coming young players that could push for time under new manager Oleksandr Petrakov. As ever, though, the reliance on goals from Andriy Yarmolenko and Roman Yaremchuk probably puts Ukraine on the radar as a side that will look to be direct. They have everything to play for; sometimes that is more than enough of a motivating factor.

Scotland (FIFA ranking: 39th)

Qatar 2022: Assessing England’s group stage opponents

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – OCTOBER 09: Scott McTominay of Scotland celebrates after scoring their team’s third goal during the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Scotland and Israel at Hampden Park on October 09, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Head-to-head record: 48-26-41 | 203GF – 174GA – 41.7%

As the lowest-ranked potential group-stage opponent England could face in the 2022 World Cup, Scotland are unquestionably their biggest rival with a history that spans 115-matches (more than any other opponent) and the reality that – at least in terms of historical significance – the Scots boast a record of defeating England almost as often as England have come out on top. But in recent years, the Three Lions have been by far and away the dominant power, posting a 7-2-1 record against their northern neighbors. Scotland, though, can hold their heads high given the fact that they earned draws in their last two meetings.

Don’t let their FIFA ranking fool you, however. Scotland boasted the best record of any second-placed side from UEFA qualifying (23-points) which included a 2-0 win against potential dark horse Denmark on the final day of group play. Manager Steve Clarke deserves a fair bit of credit for molding the Scots into a very competitive outfit this cycle, and much like Wales, England will be very familiar with the bulk of the players that could be on the plane to Qatar should they come through the playoff scheme.

Of course, the biggest names that stand out are the likes of Andrew Robertson, Kieran Tierney, John McGinn, Scott McTominay, Billy Gilmour, Ché Adams, Stuart Armstrong, and Ryan Fraser. This core of players allowed Scotland to boast a very credible defensive record in qualifying (just 7-goals allowed) while offering a fair few potential attacking options. If there could ever be a storyline for Qatar, it would be a World Cup group that, for the first time, would pit these two rivals against one another.

This article was edited by Will Jackson.

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