Group B gets underway today as group favourites England play against group underdogs Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium, with England fans curious to see who Southgate selects for their first game in Qatar.
One name we can be certain of starting, is captain Harry Kane, who is set to start in a battle of the strikers.
Harry Kane has been in fine form for Spurs, and heads into this World Cup with no injuries and the captain’s armband for a 3rd successive major tournament.
Personally, Kane will be looking to mirror his performances in the last World Cup (Russia 2018), where he took home the Golden Boot after netting 6 times for the Three Lions.
Iran will provide a stern test for the A-list attacker, as their defence has only conceded 2 goals in the last 5 games, a key factor in seeing them rise to 20th in the FIFA World Rankings.
It isn’t as if Iran don’t have a hitman of their own though. 6’2” frontman Medhi Taremi will be looking to continue the sparkling performances he’s had in a Porto shirt this term, netting 5 times himself, and setting up his teammates on 6 other occasions in 13 games.
Southgate is aware of Taremi’s presence, speaking to Independent.ie, he told the press that Taremi and Azmoun are the two biggest Iranian threats from Queiroz’s well-drilled side.
England offer a lot more than 2 threats and are blessed with quality in midfield and attack. They have 24 players to choose from out of the 26 selected, with Manchester City right back Kyle Walker and Leicester City’s James Maddison ruled out by injury.
Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham are all in contention to start for the Three Lions. With Iran expected to start with a low block, and England fans will be hoping that Southgate’s side will be able to break it down with some of that attacking flair and brilliance.
With the wealth of talent England have up front, a lot of fans have criticised how defensive Southgate can play in major tournaments, suggesting that swapping in an extra attacker for a defender will increase England’s chances of scoring. They hope this will minimise the risk of leaving it late against weaker opposition, like against Tunisia in Russia 2018.
In Euro 2016, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips formed a great partnership in midfield for the Three Lions, but due to the rise of Jude Bellingham, it will be interesting to see if Southgate sticks with the duo. Bellingham offers more attacking threat and is on top form going into this tournament, but with less than a week to prepare, Southgate could be inclined to stick to his old ways, trusting former partnerships who know his tactics.
As for Iran, Azmoun, despite Southgate compliments, is unlikely to start due to a calf injury. Alireza Jahanbakhsh (formerly of Brighton) is now almost certain to support Taremi in attack.
Omid Ebrahimi is also an absence for Iran, which is a big blow, as they would have appreciated his experience in midfield.
This match offers a great opportunity England to get their World Cup campaign underway, as they can secure a routine, resounding win over a weaker Iran side on paper.
Iran have the opportunity to put the cat amongst the pigeons and put pressure on the other teams in the group if they are victorious. They have no pressure going into this game and a win against England would send shockwaves around Qatar.