Who: England vs Iran, Group B
Where: Khalifa International Stadium
When: Monday, November 21 (4pm local time, 13:00 GMT)
Rankings: England (5), Iran (20)
Head to head: First match
Last five matches: England LDDLL, Iran LWLWD
The first game of perhaps the most politically charged group pits England against Iran at the 40,000-capacity Khalifa International Stadium on Monday.
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Given the historically fraught relations between the two countries, the only chance of the football teams facing off would have come in a global tournament and they managed to avoid each other until now.
In addition to the political tension between Iran and its three Western group members, all four teams sit in the top 20 of the rankings, giving it the dreaded moniker of “Group of Death”.
England are favourites to progress from the group based on their ranking, previous results and tournament history. However, Gareth Southgate’s team have lost three and drawn three matches in their UEFA Nations League fixtures this summer that led to their relegation.
Southgate has named a strong 26-man squad for the World Cup, and will hope his top performers from last year’s Euro run will make a comeback to their best form. Captain Harry Kane will lead the attack with the likes of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka. Jordan Henderson, Jude Bellingham and Mason Mount make up for a strong midfield as well. England’s problems, however, have been in defence where Southgate has not been able to stop them from leaking goals.
Iran will look to exploit this weakness with star striker Mehdi Taremi at the front of the attack, supported by Sardar Azmoun and Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Iran’s Portuguese Coach Carlos Queiroz will look to employ his defence-heavy tactics to contain the English attacking talent. Iran have had a decent run of results in recent friendlies with wins over Uruguay and Lebanon.
During the second stage of their World Cup campaign, Iran won eight of their 10 games and topped their group ahead of South Korea. While the qualification campaign was led by Croatian coach Dragan Skocic, supporters of Team Melli will hope the return of Queiroz before a global tournament will work in their favour.
Iran will hope to come away from their opening encounter with at least a point. And with the out-of-form USA and closely ranked Wales being the other two teams in the group, Queiroz’s team will have a chance of pulling off an upset and qualifying for the knockout round at the World Cup for the first time.