The World Cup Preview: Group B
Group B will no doubt be fascinating. The home nation battle between England and Wales will entertain, whilst an improved United States want to showcase their talent on the world stage. Iran will be looking to surprise the doubters as the dark horse, but many are touting Team Melli to finish bottom despite possessing quality.
England, as ever, have high hopes. After a very disappointing Nations League showing that ended in relegation, Gareth Southgate’s men want to bounce back. With a rich blend of youth and experience, it could indeed “come home”. The very impressive list of young talent includes Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham, three men who have become integral to their individual clubs. Can they continue their good form into Qatar?
Player to Watch: Harry Kane
A striker who will always find a way to score, if England’s talisman is firing then England may be unstoppable. Kane is always in the conversation when it comes to discussing the world’s elite, he has virtually no weaknesses. He is smart on and off the ball, strong on either foot, and can head with precision. He will make you pay.
The United States have their best chance of progression in years. The young squad have plenty to prove after finishing 3rd in their CONCACAF World Cup qualification group behind Canada and Mexico. Greg Berhalter’s squad possess an average age of 25 years and 175 days. Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are all superstars in waiting to those back home, meaning everyone in The States will watch on with intrigue, but will their highly-rated youth prove valuable?
Player to Watch: Giovanni Reyna
When you think of a ‘wonderkid’, few truly deserve the moniker. Giovanni Reyna does. For a player who has already proven himself at the top level domestically, he still has a huge future ahead of him – especially if he breaks out in Qatar. He is quick, intelligent and eager to show his skill after being sidelined for most of the USMNT’s qualifying due to a severe hamstring tear.
Wales are a much-needed feel-good story heading into this World Cup, as this will be their first appearance in the tournament in 64 years. Through great performances during the 2020-21 Nations League, Wales triumphed over Ukraine in the qualification play-offs to reach Qatar 2022. Head coach Rob Page will be eager to show the world how much Welsh football has improved, with The Dragons having plenty of great options at their disposal. Kieffer Moore has been impressing domestically and internationally as of late, while Dundee United’s Dylan Levitt will be looking to carry his great domestic form over to Qatar.
Player to Watch: Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale always performs internationally – in fact, he has made it clear in the past how much he loves playing for Wales. While his club career has stalled somewhat, the aging veteran will want to show the entire world the terrifying Bale of old. If any prime version of him is left and turns up in Qatar, Cymru will be a very scary team to take on. Only recently, he scored a crucial MLS Cup headed equaliser that helped LAFC toward a penalty shoot-out triumph. Bale will perform no doubt in my mind.
Iran aim to end their group stage curse after failing six times to progress beyond the first hurdle. By topping Group A in AFC qualifying, they want to continue their good form into their third straight World Cup appearance. With some diamonds in the rough, they can mount a surprise. Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardour Azoum is one such diamond, showing his class at former club Zenit after scoring 62 goals in 104 games. Team Melli’s promising frontline also includes Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Mehdi Taremi.
Player to Watch: Mehdi Taremi
Physically imposing and showing his class on the ball, Taremi has a very good output in Europe at Portuguese giants Porto. The 30-year-old has scored 5 goals in 5 showings in this season’s Champions League, proving he can compete with the big boys. If he can do it on the European stage, he can do it in Qatar.
Predictions: England will top the group. With quality in depth that the others don’t possess, they can rotate and still have extremely talented players on the pitch, which could prove decisive. The U.S. will then squeeze past Cymru to qualify in second-place. I feel that the USMNT have a better squad, but their inexperience could be their downfall if they don’t keep their cool. Lastly, do not under any circumstances forget about Iran; if the bottom-seeds are undervalued, they will surprise everyone.