Tag: Wales

A knockout like match between IRAN and USA.

Team Melli is still brimming with joy following the dramatic victory over Wales. It was a well-deserved win for Iran, especially after the embarrassing 6-2 hammering by England. It was also timely and Team Melli boys should be full of confidence going into Tuesday’s match against the US team in a politically charged World Cup match.

As for the Americans, there is no other choice except to win, or else they would be on the first flight home. It is claimed that this group of U.S. players is considered the best generation of American soccer. But they finished third behind Canada and Mexico in World Cup qualifying and now face a must-win final group-stage match. Their game against England showed the quality of the Americans. They were brave and logical in the game plan.  The US team rattled the post from a thunderous shot by Pulisic. They were also the better team against Wales and could have put the game to bed by the first half. In the second half, Wales took control and managed to equalize through a late penalty. The American players themselves, know the difficulty of the task ahead as their star player Weston McKennie  said: “The most important thing is that we control the outcome of our journey in this tournament with the last game against Iran, So the next thing is just to go out and get three points against Iran.”

“We got to win the game,” midfielder Gio Reyna said. “We’re not really thinking about anything else, just three points and then we’re through.”

In their last and only meeting in the FIFA World Cup, Iran famously beat the U.S. 2-1 in a 1998 World Cup match in Lyon, France which eliminated the Americans and caused thousands of flag-waving fans to pour into the streets of major Iranian cities in celebration. That was perhaps the greatest post-revolution victory for Iran’s football. In the leadup to the rematch on Tuesday, the U.S. Soccer Federation angered Iran’s government by briefly displaying Iran’s flag on social media without the emblem of the Islamic Republic. Calls by the Iranian side including Queiroz to kick US from the tournament was nothing was “A Storm In A Teacup” meant to politicize the match.

“I just hope we don’t leave it to the 90th-whatever minute,” said Stu Holden, a midfielder on the bench that night and now a Fox commentator. “It would be pretty cool to call a last-second U.S. winner, but selfishly I’m quite OK with us just getting that done early and moving on to the round of 16 because that would be a lot better for my blood pressure.”

As for Team Melli’s readiness, it seems that both Alirezas will be absent. Beiranvand is still unfit after the broken nose in the opener against England, while Jahanbakhsh got himself booked again against wales hence he will serve a one-match ban.

The expectation is that Queiroz will stick to the same game plan that was used against Wales. Why change a winning team?
However, the match against the USA will be much more difficult than the last one as the Americans have to win and that will mean constant pressure and a barrage of attacks. This might be a good thing for Team Melli if the defense does its job and will possibly leave the back line of the US team a bit light. Unfortunately, Team Melli has proven to be slow in transition and counterattack up front. Taremi in particular lacks pace, and the way Queiroz insisted to send the balls directly behind the Welsh defense for Taremi, simply did not work.  Goals have been a struggle for a U.S. team, which got just three from forwards in 14 World Cup qualifiers. Team Melli is much better off keeping the ball and penetrating on the wings and through the middle. With some players who can shoot, it is also a good option too.

Nothing significant has changed on the field of play for Team Melli. Beiranvand’s absence should not be felt as Hosseini or Abedzadeh are well capable of guarding the goal, while Jahanbakhsh’s absence is not a great loss as he has been struggling in this World Cup.

The absence of a schemer in the middle of the field has forced Queiroz to use route one football. It is not pretty and most of it ends up as lost possession allowing the opposition to mount counterattacks. The is still a card in Saman Ghoddos who can be an asset in the midfield and well capable of feeding Azmoun and Taremi. Whether Queiroz has enough trust in the Brentford midfielder is not known.

What are the possibilities for Team Melli qualification?

On Day Two of the Group stages in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. Team Melli valiantly defeated Wales 2-0 to earn a precious and vital victory after a bitter opening-day defeat to England. The goalless draw in the other group match between USA and England gave Iran some breathing space and a very good chance to qualify from the group for the first time in its history.

In this edition of the FIFA World Cup that has turned into a political battlefield, the two nations that have received a barrage of criticism and attack are the host nation Qatar and Iran. The reasons are all politically and at times racially motivated. Iran’s Team Melli is perhaps the worst affected of the two side nations and has been the subject of much criticism, anti-team slogans, accusations of representing a tyrannical regime, and promoting the oppressors of the people.  On the other hand, there are groups who support Team Melli without indulging in politics. p

The fact is that Team Melli players are in a predicament and have emotional stress. They are between a rock and a hard place. Those who accuse them of being government agents just because they wear the Jersey of a country that is totally controlled, physically and spiritually by radical and religious clans., alas ignore the duty of any athlete and or footballer to represent the country to the best of his ability to bring joy and pride to the people. Granted, the politicians and the opperssors will manipulate these victories and credit themselves for it.

Victory for Team Melli will be celebrated by the regime and forms the biggest propaganda. But the real winners will be the people of Iran.

The players, or some of them at least, dedicate the victory of Team Melli to the oppressed people of Iran and remind us all that they are playing for the people of the country.

so, with that in mind, Team Melli is looking forward to the vital, knock-out-like match against the USA. The ultimate, political and sporting match.

At this time all four teams in this group have a chance to advance. to the next Knockout round (Round 16). In the meantime, the undoubted qualification solution would be for Team Melli to defeat the Americans on Tuesday. which is easier said than done as it would be a difficult task. However, a draw could also suffice depending on the other result between Wales and England.

Iran’s win will give it 6 points, and regardless of the other result, it is assured of qualification.

A loss will be the end of the road for Team Melli and with it the end of the dream. The USA will have 5 points and will qualify.  England already has 4 and even if it loses against Wales , it will be a case of head-to-head and goal difference.

How will Iran become the leader?


Iran vs USA – Win for Iran
England vs Wales – Draw 

If Team Melli can defeat the USA and the match between England and Wales ends in a draw, Iran will have 6 points and will qualify as top of the group. England will qualify as well as the second stage with 5 points.

Iran vs USA – Draw
England vs Wales – Draw 

Team Melli’s draw against the USA and England’s draws against Wales means Iran will end up with 4 points, while England will have 5. Both Teams qualify with England as the group leader

Iran vs USA – Draw
England vs Wales – Wales win

Team Melli’s draw against the USA  and Wales beating England means three teams on four points. The USA is eliminated with 3 points. With head-to-head, disciplinary records, and goals difference, Iran stands to lose out and Wales and England qualify.

So, it is clear that Team Melli has to go for a win against the USA. That requires Queiroz to change his mindset and be brave enough to attack and abandon his park-the-bus mentality. Something similar to the game plan against Wales will most probably be enough to defeat the Americans who have several vulnerabilities.

Wales coach admits his team ‘weren’t in the game at all’ after disappointing Iran loss

Rob Page struggled to contain his annoyance after saying too many Wales players endured off-days in the defeat by Iran that left their chances of progressing to the last 16 of their first World Cup for 64 years hanging by a thread.

Iran had a first-half goal disallowed and twice hit the woodwork before scoring twice in second-half stoppage time to earn victory. Wales, who salvaged a late draw against the USA on Monday, again struggled to stamp their authority and had Wayne Hennessey sent off on 86 minutes after he inadvertently wiped out the Iran striker Mehdi Taremi when attempting to clear the ball.

Page said he would lift his players, many of whom crashed to the floor at full time, before Tuesday’s final Group B match against England. “We can’t sit and cry about it,” the manager said. “We want to give our supporters something to cheer about. They have shown massive commitment to come over [to Qatar] and it really disappoints me that we’ve given them that. We’ll bounce back. We’ll pick them up and go again.”

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were among the Wales players who seemed to wilt in the intense afternoon heat before Iran prospered. “We weren’t in the game at all,” Page said. “Even in the first half, before the sending-off … you can carry one or two players if there are off-days but, when the majority of the team are not quite at it, there is only going to be one outcome, unfortunately. It [qualifying] is out of our hands now.”

Hennessey was initially booked for clattering Taremi as the striker latched on to a through ball before a VAR review led to his caution being upgraded. Page acknowledged his side were second-best.

“Before the sending-off I wasn’t happy with the performance,” he said. “They hit the post twice, they had a goal ruled out for offside, which was marginal. We just couldn’t get going in the game and that disappoints me the most. We fell well below the standards that over recent months have given us the success to qualify for the World Cup … when you do that in top competitions you get punished.”

Carlos Queiroz, Iran’s head coach, said he was delighted with the way his players responded to their 6-2 thrashing by England. Queiroz dedicated the victory to Iran’s fans, many of whom inside the stadium jeered his players singing the national anthem after they had remained silent during Monday’s anthem.

“It was very emotional but special because we rebounded from a difficult situation,” Queiroz said. “Nobody likes to lose and, when you lose with those numbers, it is always a tough job. We went back to our roots. I think we played brilliantly. We wanted to give this gift to Iran fans. This game was a gift to the fans from the north, south, east, west – it’s a gift to all of them.”Rob Page struggled to contain his annoyance after saying too many Wales players endured off-days in the defeat by Iran that left their chances of progressing to the last 16 of their first World Cup for 64 years hanging by a thread.

Iran vs Wales: Player Ratings

The players rating against Wales in which Team Melli achieved a convincing win 2-0 scored by the two unlikeliest players.

  • Rouzbeh Cheshmi : Substituted in with 12 minutes remaining of the match. His major contribution was the goal he scored from about 30 meters in added time. Not only it gave Iran a deserved lead but boosted the morale so effectively that the second came soon after his goal. 8.0
  • Mehdi Taremi: He was overshadowed by Sardar Azmoun, yet his moves disturbed the Welsh defense. Slow in transition and missed a few good opportunities to create possession for his teammates. Provided the assist for the second goal to Rezaeian 7.60
  • Sardar Azmoun : His presense was immensly felt in the team. Always willing to run and tackle while doing defensive. duties Provided the pass to Gholozadeh to score the disallowed goal after VAR review. Hit the post too. His contribution was helpful to the team but the injury was worrying. 8.10
  • Ali Karimi: Came in as a late sub without contributing much in the few minutes.6.20
  • Mehdi Torabi : As a sub, he had limited time on the field but a good attempt to open the scoring deserves a good rating. 7.3
  •  Karim Ansarifard: A sub for Azmoun with limited time and contribution to the game 6.6

  • Ali Gholizadeh : Was one o the better player on the field. He was slightly offside when he received Azmoun’s ball to score. His dribbling and ball control was a breath of fresh air. 7.95
  • Ramin Rezaeian: Started the match badly with some wayward crossing that irritated the forwards. Slowly he came on well and started gelling with the rest. Defensive work. His delightful dink to score the second was all class. Got himself booked unnecessarily for useless protesting 7.85
  • Alireza Jahanbakhsh: A bench player for this match who came in with 12 minutes to play. Not only he had no effective contribution, but he also got another yellow card and is hence suspended for the next match against the USA. 6.00
  • Ehsan Hajisafi: Solid defensively and hardly put a foot wrong. It seems that he is not a 90 minutes player and more but for the time he was on the field, he was reliable and did a good job 7.80
  • Saeid Ezatolahi: A much better performance than the last match yet still missing some vital skills in his play. Defensive work from the midfield was fine when combining well with other players 7.45
  • Majid Hosseini: More confident and less error-prone. He combined with Pouralganji to create a solid wall in front of Hosseini preventing the Welsh penetration from the heat of the defense. 7.70
  • Ahamad Noorollahi: Lacks the speed and agility for fast transitions however, he played his role well and prevented the Welsh from taking hold of the midfield areas. 7.70
  • Hossein Hosseini: Was not really threatened by the Welsh player thanks to a solid defense. His Aerial work was fine and had no problem catching most of the crosses aimed toward his goal. Kept a clean sheet. 7.78
  • Milad Mohammadi: Had a calm day and did not need to exert lots of pressure on defensive duties. His incursion into the Welsh half on the wing was limited. 7.78
  • Morteza Pouraliganji : Did a fine job in combination with Majid Hosseini despite the lack of playing together for many years. 7.75
  • Carlos Queiroz: Must be credited for the changes he made in the starting lineup including playing with two center forwards, Taremi and Azmoun. On the other hand, there was no sign of a definitive game plan for ball distribution from the midfielders as he opted for route one football, balls directly sent from the back directly to the two forwards. Although some of the midfield players were capable of distributing the ball more efficiently. Had no solution for the slow transition from defense to attack and for the lack of pace. A player such as Torabi would have been ideal for that purpose. 7.8

Team Melli stuns Wales with two late goals.

Rozbeh Cheshmi and Ramin Rezaeian scored two late goals against Wales in Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al-Rayyan, Doha to ensure Team Melli grab all three points in an exciting and dynamic match.

The 2-0 win puts Iran in the second position in Group B on goal difference behind group leader England. The USA is third and will be meeting the leaders later this evening.

Team Melli had five changes from the previous match with Azmoun making the starting lineup and Jahanbakhsh benched. Gholizadeh also made the start-up. The match was balanced in the early stages but slowly Team Melli managed to take a grip on the match.  However, efforts by Azmoun and Taremi did not yield any results. Ali Gholizadeh scored a goal from a nice assist by Azmoun but he was deemed offside.

The first half ended goalless

In the second half, Iran was much the better team and threatened Wales consistently. The poor finishing and the slow transition from defense to attack marred Team Melli’s performance. Azmoun shot against the post and seconds later Gholizadeh curled a beauty into the far corner of Hennessy but that ball also hit the upright.

In the dying minutes of the match, Taremi was released from a long ball. He beat the offside trap and was one-to-one with Hennessey, The Welsh keeper came all the way outside the box to cut the ball. He fouled Taremi in the process and also denied him a goal-scoring opportunity, a clear red card case. However,  to the shock of the Iranians, the referee opted for a yellow card to the Welsh Keeper. Moments later, the referee was invited to look at the situation by VAR referees. The review resulted in the rightful decision of sending Henessy off.

Dying minutes of the added time. Rozbeh Cheshnmo lathed at a loose ball from outside the box to score from a low powerful shot right into the corner of Welsh goal. 1-0 to Iran. The Welsh then went on an all-out attack leaving their backlight. two minutes later, a counterattack and a beautiful pass by Taremi ended up with Rezaeian chipping the Welsh keeper to make it 20-0.

Iran deserved this valuable win against the 10-man Wales and needs a similar result to assure qualification to the next round.

Azmoun in the starting lineup against Wales

Queiroz realized his blunder against England and opted to change the shape of the team for the match against Wales in Group B of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. In defense, the same poor lineup is maintained though, except for the right back where Ramin Rezaeian is replacing Moharrami. In the midfield, Karimi and Cheshmi are out, replaced by Gholizadeh and Ezatollahi. The biggest surprise was the exclusion of Alireza Jaganbakhsh who had a bad day against England, with Sardar Azmoun.

The line-up is as follows:

Hossein Hosseini

Iran vs Wales: Match preview

Wales and Iran will both be going in search of their first wins of the 2022 World Cup when they face off at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Friday. After the trouncing by England, Team Melli is looking for a strong comeback to keep their qualifying hope alive. Team Melli will be without their main goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand who has a broken nose and will sit it out for the rest of the tournament. Amir Abedzadeh is making a strong claim for a starting place ahead of Hossein Hosseini who conceded six goals against England.

Iran will have to have a major facelift if they are going to beat Wales, as the lineup against England was the catalyst in this big defeat. Saman Ghoddos was sorely missed in the middle of the field so was Kanani to lead the defense.  As for the Forwards, it is likely that Queiroz, who is an aficionado of parking the bus and under immense public pressure, will start with both Azmoun and Taremi up front. The midfield in particular is in a dire need of a leader and orchestrator. Jahanbakhsh needs to stand up and be counted. Says applies to Nourollahi and Eztollahi.

Rob Page‘s Wales side rescued a point against the USA in their opening fixture, while Iran was on the end of a 6-2 pummelling at the hands of England as their World Cup campaign began in the worst possible fashion.

Hopes will be higher of picking up points against Wales, although both sides may be going into the game uncertain of what to expect with the two having only previously met on one occasion.

That contest came all the way back in April 1978 too, when former Cardiff City defender Phil Dwyer scored the only goal of the game on his debut in a friendly in Tehran’s Arayamehr Stadium.

It was not an ideal warm-up for the 1978 World Cup for Iran, who went on to finish bottom of their group behind Peru, Netherlands and Scotland – against whom they picked up their only point – in Argentina.


Wales wins: 1
Iran wins: 0
Draws: 0
Wales goals: 1
Iran goals: 0


April 18, 1978: Iran 0-1 Wales (International friendly)

The Mind Game in the FIFA World Cup.

There have been many mutterings about Team Melli qualifying from Group B of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 for the first time in six attempts. Although these expectations have cooled recently, it is natural that fans look upon Team Melli to send several messages in these black days of the Iranian nation.

Political unrest and the daily news of deaths, injuries, arrests, riots, and disturbances across Iran in the aftermath of the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the notorious Morality Police have confused and dampened the interest of many Iranians including those who are living abroad. There is a clear and definite split of opinions on the status of the Team representing Iran in the World Cup. While many believe that this team is a representative of a brutal regime and is being used as a propaganda tool for the Islamic republic leading many to demand from FIFA to kick the Team out of the World Cup, others still firmly believe that this team represents the people and its honors equated to national honors that make people happy and pride in a country where many people do not have a sense of happiness and experiencing extreme hardship under a tyrannical and authoritarian regime.

The mood of the players and their psychological status means a world of difference in whether the team makes it to the next round.

Carlos Queiroz’s arrival from the backdoor was the first shock to Team Melli. The majority of the players religiously believed in their fired ex-boss Dragan Skocic. The Croat and beyond any shadow of a doubt, performed a miracle by qualifying for the world cup while they were on the brink of being eliminated in the second round under Marc Wilmots. Skočić, was treated cruelly, not much dissimilar from the way that the regime treats its own people. As a result of his dismissal and the arrival of Queiroz, the splits and differences grew within the players themselves. Although the official media talks about the harmony and unity of the team. it is far from true with players still suffering the bitter split between the groups.

Then come the post-Mahsa Amini events and the uprising of the people. Another split in the team has grown as many Team Melli players publicly supported the uprising and spoke against the regime publicly or through social media. Those who did not dare to speak out chose the road of muted celebrations which became quite common with many sporting teams in Iran.  Some player lost their chance of being in the squad because of these expressions of support. There are also pro-regime players in Team Melli and all the coaches are well aware that these are untouchables. This minority of players remain to keep a low profile

It remains to be seen how the differences, stress, and low morale will affect the overall performance of Team Melli in Doha.

On the pitch, since Queiroz’s arrival, Team Melli is not exactly shining either. A very good result against Uruguay and a draw against Senegal two high-ranked teams mistakingly led many to believe in the Queiroz Magical touch effect and high expectations. Then Iran played against a lowly Nicaragua and managed a slim shy 1-0 victory, while in the next game Team Melli was beaten 2-0 by Tunisia a powerful African team playing in the World Cup. A reality check.

The other concern is that Queiroz is known to have a blind belief in Legionnaires. He hardly has any interest in the domestic league players. Considering that Queiroz will for sure give the Legionnaires priority, the worry lies in these players’ recent performances and forms. Apart from Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, the rest have done miserably badly in the European Leagues. Sardar Azmoun has been injured for a long period and is still recovering as we speak, but even before his unfortunate injury, he was not exactly shining for Bayer Leverkusen.  Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Saman Ghoddos are nearly permanent bench players. None of them scored a goal in the league competition. Beiranvand despite changing two clubs in Europe could not make the grade there and returned back after two seasons. Ansarifard, Hajsafi, and Mohammadi were fringe players in their Greek club, the former was unceremonially pushed out of AEK Athena to the Cyprus league. Saeid Ezzatollahi who is called the Marco Polo of Iranian football has traveled across many countries and clubs, never settled down anywhere and now he is in the World Cup playing for a second-division Danish Club !!!

Gholizadeh is not faring well either, while Allahyar Sayyedmanish has missed the World Cup altogether through injury.

So, it is clear that the players Queiroz depends on are not at top form with many lacking proper game times. It is doubtful that these few days they are together will turn the team into a fighting force.

 There is no argument that England is by far a superior team to Iran and the first match on November 21st will be the toughest test for Team Melli. If circumstances were different, we would have most probably put a few dollars on Iran drawing or even defeating England as the Brits are not at their best form either. A series of defeats, relegation from the European Nations League, and a reputation for failure at critical moments are all stacked against the English Team.

The weather in Qatar is still not ideal either. Temperature and Humidity are major factors, in the discomfort of Europeans in general despite the stadium air conditioning system.

The preparatory matches against Nicaragua and Tunisia, will not have any positive effect from a technical point of view and can only improve the team’s mental state. On the positive side, Queiroz excels in the mental preparation of his players. He knows his opponents well and his successful reading of the England team is the most important step in Iran’s dream of qualification. Of course, a positive result against England is not the end of the road, as two well-prepared and capable opponents are waiting to defeat Iran. a team that all others group members think is beatable.

There will be a mind game played between Iran and England so that will be the case against the USA. Western propaganda will not leave politics alone and will intimidate the players anytime they feel like it. That is their game. Anything to lower the morale of the players and remind them that they are playing for a regime that kills and tortures its own people.  At this stage apart from the fact that England is the favorite and its fans will continue singing ” It is Coming Home”. the rest is difficult to call. If Iran stands a chance, it has to be based on its mental strength and the physical attributes of its defenders. When it comes to tactics and game plans, there is admittedly a gap, but football is notorious for unpredictable results.

England World Cup 2022 squad announced

GARETH SOUTHGATE has named his 26-man squad for England’s World Cup campaign with Conor Gallagher and Callum Wilson the shock picks.

The Three Lions manager has whittled down his 55-man provisional list to the special 26.

After announcing his selections, Southgate said: “We’re excited by the group. We think there’s a lot of talent within it.

“But the group has to come together. We’ve got to adapt better than anybody else in the coming period.”

Harry Kane will once again spearhead Southgate’s troops, looking to win his first competition.

The Spurs man was the top scorer at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Jordan Pickford has never let anyone down for England, and he will be given the gloves in Qatar. The much-maligned Harry Maguire might not have found much form for Manchester United this season, but he is one of Southgate’s favorites in the squad.

James Maddison’s inclusion is arguably the biggest talking point. He appears to have finally won over Southgate after his stunning form for Leicester dragged them off the bottom of the Premier League.

Iran is the first of England’s opponents on 21st Nov 2022.

World Cup 2022 team previews: United States, England, Iran, Wales



Manager: Carlos Queiroz
Nickname: Team Melli
FIFA Rank: 20

How they qualified

Having made their World Cup debut in 1978, Iran return for the sixth time, and a third in a row, having exited at the group stage at each of the previous attempts. An 18-match AFC qualification journey that started all the way back in September 2019 saw Iran win 14 matches, draw once and lose just three times on route to Qatar. An early hiccup in the form of back-to-back defeats to Bahrain and Iraq proved insignificant as Team Melli topped their group in the second round. In the decisive third round, they were as clinical as ever, winning eight of their 10 matches to book their place at the World Cup with three games to spare, finishing ahead of South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.

Style of play

The reappointment of Carlos Queiroz as head coach at the start of September signaled a return to the familiar for Iran. The Portuguese coach had led them for eight years between 2011 and 2019, including at the two previous World Cups. Under the former Real Madrid boss, Team Melli plays a 4-3-3 system relying on compact defense and a hardworking midfield, while the attacking burden is largely left for their target man flanked by two out-and-out wingers. Taremi and Azmoun, who played successfully in most matches under Skocic, will not be featured in the same match as Queiroz prefers a single forward lineup.

Biggest strength

Iran’s approach under Queiroz has always been defined by an exceptional defensive solidity. The side did not concede a single goal in their first five games at the AFC Asian Cup 2019, and their record in international tournaments under the Portuguese coach includes an impressive 10 clean sheets in 16 games. In Russia 2018, they conceded only twice in a group that featured the past two European champions at the time: Spain and Portugal. Expect more of the same in Qatar. Iran will make it difficult for the likes of Pulisic, Kane, and Bale to find a way through.

Biggest weakness

Key to Queiroz’s “defense-first” method is to remain focused for the full 90 minutes under opposition pressure and, while his players are adept at the tactical and physical aspects of the game, it can be the mental side that lets them down. In 2014, they earned a 0-0 draw against Nigeria and lost to Argentina only thanks to a last-minute Lionel Messi wondergoal, but then capitulated in a 3-1 defeat to Bosnia & Herzegovina. Their five-game clean sheet run in the AFC Asian Cup 2019 came to an end in a spectacular 3-0 collapse against Japan, while in Russia 2018, they failed to stay composed to take any of their chances against Portugal, which could have sent them through to the round of 16. As a team, Iran does not have the mental strength and agility of the Europeans. Psychological issues stemming from events back home could play a part in the team’s performance,

Star player: Mehdi Taremi

Any of Iran’s front three could lay a claim to being the side’s talisman. For the best part of seven years, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun, and Mehdi Taremi formed an undroppable trio for Team Melli, but it is the latter who has reached new heights in recent years. With 18 goal contributions in 16 matches across all competitions this season so far, Taremi has been in impressive form for Portuguese giants FC Porto, where he had already netted 20+ goals in each of the past three seasons. Azmoun will probably make it to Doha after a tough recovery from injury, however, Taremi will be the main man up front.

Projected starting XI

(4-3-3): Beiranvand; Moharrami, Kanaani, Hosseini, Hajsafi; Ezatolahi, Amiri, Ansarifard; Jahanbakhsh, Taremi, Azmoun.

What the stats say

– Best World Cup finish Group stage (all five times).



In 2014, Iran picked up just one point from their group. Four years later, that tally was up to four points despite a more difficult draw. With years of experience under their belts and a coach who knows the ins and outs of this team, it might finally be time for Iran to reach the round of 16 at the sixth time of asking.


United States

Manager: Gregg Berhalter
Nickname: The Stars and Stripes
FIFA Rank: 16

How they qualified

The U.S. were fairly well positioned throughout the eight-team final round in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but the failure to reach the 2018 event hung on the team like a weighted vest. Every stumble brought back nightmarish memories of the night in Trinidad when the U.S. squandered qualification. The Americans also seemed to lack a killer instinct on the road to get results that would have eased the path to Qatar.

But ultimately, the U.S. got the job done. A road win in Honduras that concluded the first qualifying window settled nerves. Consecutive home wins over Costa Rica and Mexico created some momentum. There was still work to be done heading into the last trio of games, but a priceless road draw against El Tri and a 5-1 rout of Panama effectively clinched qualification.

Style of play

Early in his tenure, manager Gregg Berhalter had the U.S. playing out of the back almost to a fault. But the dogmatic approach eventually morphed into something more pragmatic, with the U.S. aiming to press the opposition and create chances that way. Berhalter also aimed to get full-backs Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest into the attack and utilize the likes of Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah on the flanks.

Biggest strength

The U.S. enjoy significant attacking depth on the wings. Beyond Pulisic, Aaronson and Weah, there’s also Giovanni Reyna. All four players are skillful on the ball in their own ways. Aaronson is all energy, and his ability to initiate the press often kickstarts the U.S. attack. Weah’s pace gives the American side a different element, and Reyna — when healthy — has the kind of close control and vision that can torment defences. Pulisic’s dynamism is vital as well (more on him later.)

Biggest weakness

Both the striker position and the center-backs are causes for worry. No center-forward has really made the position their own, with Jesus Ferreira, Josh Sargent, Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi all being given ample opportunity. Just four of the U.S. team’s 20 goals in 14 qualifying matches came from a center-forward. All four have been finding the net of late for their clubs, but the extent to which that translates to a World Cup is a massive unknown.

The center-back slot was once a strength for the Americans. Walker Zimmerman was solid throughout qualifying. But this area of the field has been hit hard by injuries. Miles Robinson suffered a torn Achilles back in May and will miss the World Cup. Chris Richards has been slow to recover from a hamstring injury. John Brooks has long been out of favor, despite his experience. That leaves one of Aaron Long, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Mark McKenzie to duke it out if Richards can’t recover. Given the way the U.S. struggled to play through Japan’s press in a recent friendly, this position is a huge area of concern.

Star player: Christian Pulisic

Pulisic is still the main man when it comes to the U.S. attack, with his ability to run at defenses, score goals and set up chances all critical elements. His ability to win free kicks — he was by far the most fouled U.S. player during qualifying with 26 fouls suffered, despite missing four games — is another important asset in a tournament where games are often decided by set pieces.

But is Pulisic up to the task of carrying the load? It’s a responsibility that has, at least outwardly, weighed heavy. The U.S. certainly have more talent playing beside him in Aaronson, Weah and Reyna than there has been in the past. But if the U.S. are to make to the group stage, Pulisic will need to be at his best.

Projected starting XI

(4-3-3) Steffen; Dest, Zimmerman, Richards, Robinson; McKennie, Adams, Musah; Weah, Ferreira, Pulisic.

What the stats say

– Best World Cup finish: Semifinals (1930)

– The U.S. are the youngest team to qualify to this World Cup, by average age of players used in qualifying.

Prediction: Group B is deceptively difficult. At No. 21 in the FIFA rankings, Iran are the worst-ranked team. And while those rankings have to be taken with some skepticism, every other group has a team ranked at least 30th or worse. For that reason, the U.S. team’s odds are 50-50 in terms of advancement. Based on recent form, their odds don’t look to be improving. Health will be a huge factor, but at this stage, it looks like the U.S. will fall just short. — Jeff Carlisle


Manager: Gareth Southgate
Nickname: The Three Lions
FIFA Rank: 5

How they qualified

England were unbeaten in qualification and scored more goals (39) than any other team in Europe. However, 24 of those were against minnows San Marino and Andorra, suggesting the team’s potency was perhaps slightly inflated. They needed a late Harry Maguire goal to see off Poland 2-1 at Wembley in their first meaningful test in March 2021. Gareth Southgate’s side recovered quickly from their Euro 2020 final disappointment by beating Hungary 4-0 at the Puskas Arena last September, but a 1-1 draw in Poland later that month and the same scoreline at home to Hungary in October raised more questions than answers. Two facile wins against Albania and San Marino in November ensured England ended their campaign on a high, but the Nations League campaign that followed is a different matter entirely (more of that later).

Style of play

Pragmatic. One of the widespread criticisms of Southgate is that England should be more expansive given the attacking talent they have at their disposal. However, he is more calculated as a result of concerns over England’s habitual struggle to retain possession in tournaments and a lack of top-class center-back options. England can switch between systems and they may play with a back four at some point in Qatar, but the recent Nations League matches strongly suggest 3-4-3 is his preferred formation.

Biggest strength

The sheer number of attacking options. Although Harry Kane is clearly England’s first-choice center-forward, Southgate has an embarrassment of attacking riches to call on with Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish, and Mason Mount among those vying for two attacking positions on either side. And that’s not to mention Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and James Maddison, who all might not make the squad at all. England have an exciting and dynamic blend of forwards, many of whom will be more acclimatized to the demands of tournament football after last year’s run to the delayed Euro 2020 finals. The emergence of Jude Bellingham is also an exciting prospect to inject some flair into England’s central midfield. If it all clicks, England could be very good.

Biggest weakness

There are a few concerns, but the biggest is at the center-back. Maguire’s form has fallen off a cliff at Manchester United yet Southgate continues to select him on past performances for England. That is both a reflection of his importance in 2018 and 2021 but also the lack of top-class options at center-back. England, still, do not keep the ball well enough in major finals. The pattern of the matches against Croatia (semifinal in 2018) and Italy (final, 2020) was markedly similar in that England started well before giving the ball away too often, conceding control of the game to their opponents. Bellingham is England’s big hope there. Injuries have also mounted in recent weeks with Kyle Walker, Reece James, and Kalvin Phillips all major doubts for the finals while form in general is a problem: England have not won for six matches, and although there were mitigating factors, they were relegated from the Nations League as they failed to win any of six matches against Italy, Germany, and Hungary.

Star player: Harry Kane

Harry Kane on making history ahead of the EURO 2020 final | UEFA EURO |  UEFA.com

Kane won the Golden Boot at the last World Cup and will likely target the same outcome in Qatar. The 29-year-old is two goals short of equalling Wayne Rooney’s England record of 53, but he hasn’t netted from open play since November 2021, when scoring four against San Marino. He remains England’s talisman, however, and any injury or loss of form would be a major blow given he is Southgate’s best center-forward option by such a big margin. The Tottenham striker will also attract attention of a different kind as one of several captains to wear a “OneLove” armband during matches — even if it is prohibited by FIFA — as part of an anti-discrimination initiative.

Projected starting XI

(3-4-3): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire; Trippier, Bellingham, Rice, Shaw; Foden, Kane, Sterling.

What the stats say

– Best World Cup finish: Champion (1966)

– England enter the tournament on a poor run of form, as they were winless in the 2022 UEFA Nations League (0-3-3.)


England will expect to get out of Group B, but the draw quickly gets tricky. A last-16 tie — most likely against either the Netherlands or Senegal — looks tough before a possible quarterfinal against France or Argentina. England simply have not defended well enough, often enough, for anybody to have a high degree of confidence they could win back-to-back matches against elite opposition. If they benefitted from more inviting knockout draws in 2018 and 2021, the same cannot be said this time. — James Olley


Manager: Robert Page
Nickname: The Dragons
FIFA Rank: 19

How they qualified

Wales reached their first World Cup since 1958 after a dramatic and emotional playoff against Ukraine. By their own admission, Wales had the will of the world against them in September given the war in Ukraine, but a Gareth Bale free kick was enough to snatch a 1-0 win and a place in Qatar. Prior to that, Wales finished second in a group containing Belgium (winners) and the Czech Republic (third), winning four of their eight matches and losing only once (to Belgium in March 2021). Head coach Robert Page was rewarded for qualification with a new four-year contract in September.

Style of play

Counter-attacking. Wales averaged 45.1% possession in their World Cup qualification group and that figure dropped to 40.9% in their six UEFA Nations League games against Poland, Netherlands, and Belgium (five of which they lost). Wayne Hennessey is a fine goalkeeper, and Wales will try to stay defensively compact before hitting teams on the break through the pace of Dan James, the guile of Aaron Ramsey, and the star quality of Bale.

Biggest strength

Team spirit. This is not intended to be patronizing, especially given Wales possesses several talented individuals including most obviously Bale and Ramsey, but this is a team whose recent history has proved time and again they can become more than the sum of their parts. Reaching the semifinals of Euro 2016 was a truly remarkable feat, subsequently backing up their presence on the biggest stages by qualifying for Euro 2020 and now a first World Cup in 64 years. The presence of old rivals England in Group B will only multiply that collective stirring of the soul; England were heavy favorites to beat Wales six years ago in France but needed a stoppage-time winner to snatch a 2-1 victory.

Biggest weakness

A lack of strength in depth. An injury to Bale or Ramsey would be a hammer blow to Wales’ hopes. Joe Allen is already a doubt with a hamstring problem and has seen a specialist in recent days to try to ensure he is fit in time. Although younger talents have emerged to bolster Page’s options — for example, defender Ethan Ampadu is 22 but already has 37 caps to his name — Wales are reliant on their smattering of big-name stars for goals, in particular. Bale was top scorer in qualifying (with five) while the absence of an elite center-forward is a problem. Kiefer Moore scored twice for Bournemouth against Tottenham recently, but the 30-year-old has plied his trade outside the Premier League until this season and has just nine international goals to his name.

Star player: Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale | Wales | Euro 2020

Rumors persist that the 33-year-old has delayed his retirement just for this World Cup. Bale signed a one-year contract with LAFC in June, and although there is an option to extend to 2024, it remains possible Bale could choose to bow out shortly after Qatar depending on what happens. His club career might have all but ground to a halt at Real Madrid, but Bale has always been Wales’ talisman, amassing 40 goals in 108 appearances. Don’t be fooled by his mixed form in MLS — Bale retains the capacity to rise to the occasion like few other players and he revels in the role of carrying a nation’s hopes on his shoulders.

Projected starting XI

(3-4-3): Hennessey; Ampadu, Rodon, Davies; Roberts, Allen, Ramsey, Williams; Bale, Moore, James.

What the stats say

– Best World Cup finish: Quarterfinals (1958).

– The 64-year gap between appearances is the longest in World Cup history.


Wales faces a tough task to replicate their recent tournament heroics. Nevertheless, although England are clear favorites to top the group, Page’s side will expect to be competitive for one of the top two spots, and the fact they play England last could help in that regard. It might be only the first game, but United States vs. Wales already feels huge for both teams’ prospects. The round of 16 might be the best they can hope for.