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World Cup 2022 preview: Group B
We take a closer look at Group B, featuring the Three Lions, a Gareth Bale-inspired Wales, Iran and a USA side pinning its hopes on Chelsea's Christian Pulisic.
Group B features one of the most intriguing fixtures of the group stage as the Three Lions take on the Welsh Dragons in the Battle of Britain.
After an unbeliveably successful career, Gareth Bale will be looking to make his mark on the World Cup having lead Wales to new heights at the Euros in 2016, where they reached the semi-finals.
Bale will see some familiar faces when Wales face the America in Group B too now that he makes his living stateside. Team USA will feature Chelsea's Christan Pulisic as they aim to have a good World Cup before co-hosting the tournament in 2026.
England are expected to make it to the knockout stages, but must perform under the pressure. Captain Harry Kane, who won the Golden Boot at Russia 2018, will need to continue his good goalscoring form from the Premier League with questions still remaining over England's defensive frailties.
Iran add an unknown element to the group and will play England in their first match.
FIFA ranking: 5th
Squad's top scorer: Harry Kane - 51 goals / 75 apps
World Cup qualifying position: Group I Winners (UEFA)
Best World Cup finish: Winners (1966)
Route to qualification:
Gareth Southgate's men cruised to Qatar with 39 goals scored and three conceded. Ten of those came in one match at San Marino.
Despite the performances of the likes of Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden with their respective clubs, Harry Kane stands out due to his sheer weight of goals and his ability to drop deep and link the play when required with his superb range of passing.
Gareth Southgate is under pressure having yet to mastermind a win in 2022 after six matches, but the former Middlesbrough boss has credit in the bank after achieving fourth-placed and runners-up finishes at the World Cup 2018 and Euro 2020 respectively.
The depth of attacking options, particularly in wide areas, would give any opponent headaches and both Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling have arguably been more vibrant pulling on the Three Lions shirt than they have been at club level for the past 18 months.
The fact that the tournament is being held mid-season may also work to the team's advantage given that it doesn't fall after a gruelling English season.
Kalvin Phillips has played just 57 minutes of competitive football this season due mainly to a persistent shoulder problem, so any issue for him would leave the squad stretched if Declan Rice and/or Jude Bellingham got injured.
The lack of a left-back cover is an area for concern after Ben Chilwell's heartbreaking hamstring injury left Luke Shaw as the only recognised option in that position.
FIFA ranking: 19th
Squad's top scorer: Gareth Bale - 40 goals / 108 apps
World Cup qualifying position: Group E 2nd place / 2nd round winners against Ukraine (UEFA)
Best World Cup finish: Quarter-finals (1958)
Route to qualification:
Wales finished five points adrift of group winners Belgium and then beat both Austria and Ukraine in tense Cardiff play-offs thanks to three Gareth Bale goals across the two games.
Without meaning to resort to familiarity, Bale is the clear choice here.
He may now be playing in the MLS rather than the Premier League or LaLiga, but his big-game mentality was on show yet again earlier this month when he planted home a 128th-minute header to save LAFC's skin in the MLS Cup final as the team duly beat Philadelphia Union on penalties.
Rob Page has been in charge since November 2020 and has had a mixed time at the helm, with World Cup qualification followed by Nations League relegation in September.
Along with Bale's obvious qualities, this Wales side has pace to burn on the counter-attack, with Dan James and Brennan Johnson ahead of wing-backs Neco Williams and Conor Roberts, while Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey's technical ability will undoubtedly come in handy.
Wales are in poor form and haven't won any of their last five games, three of which were at home.
They also equalised home and away against the Netherlands in that run, only to concede shortly after in both games to suffer agonising defeats. Concentration is key.
FIFA ranking: 16th
Squad's top scorer: Christian Pulisic - 21 goals / 52 apps
World Cup qualifying position: 3rd place (CONCACAF)
Best World Cup finish: 3rd (1930)
Route to qualification:
Gregg Berhalter's men squeaked through to Qatar, only qualifying by virtue of goal difference ahead of Costa Rica, who they lost 2-0 to on the final matchday.
Despite his Chelsea struggles, Christian Pulisic is a dazzling attacking force at his best and has already amassed more than 50 caps for the Stars and Stripes at the age of just 24.
Berhalter has been in charge of the USMNT since December 2018 and brought home their seventh Gold Cup last year, with victory claimed in extra time against Mexico, although the former Columbus Crew head coach is under pressure to deliver to guide a golden generation of talent to the knockout phase after an underwhelming qualifying campaign.
The full-backs, Fulham's Antonee Robinson and Milan's Sergino Dest, are excellent at carrying the ball rapidly upfield, while both have the energy and positional sense to also excel defensively.
Berhalter has been criticised for putting square pegs in round holes - or no holes at all.
Tyler Adams has been asked to play a more attacking than he seems comfortable with as a naturally more defensively minded player, while the team have struggled to create chances without the presence of a 10.
FIFA ranking: 20
Squad's top scorer: Sardar Azmoun - 41 goals / 65 apps
World Cup qualifying position: Group A winners (AFC)
Best World Cup finish: First round (1978), Group stage (1998, 2006, 2014, 2018)
Route to qualification:
Iran topped through to the third round of Asia qualifying (having received a first-round bye) and then topped a group containing South Korea to make it to Qatar.
Mehdi Taremi has been a relatively late bloomer, only joining Porto at the age of 28 in 2020, but since then, the striker has shone, scoring 62 goals in 114 and replicating that form for his country.
Carlos Queiroz was only appointed in September after predecessor Dragan Skocic was sacked, reappointed after national team legend Ali Daei turned down the job- before being sacked again.
Queiroz previously managed Iran, nicknamed Team Melli, between 2011 and 2019.
Taremi and Bayer Leverkusen striker Sardar Azmoun are excelling in Europe, along with Dinamo Zagreb centre-back Sadegh Moharrami and Feyenoord and former Brighton winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Having failed to make it past the group stage (or group-stage equivalent) at a finals on five previous occasions, this may be the country's best chance to do so.
Injury has forced Allahyar Sayyadmanesh to miss the tournament, and the side have lost experienced heads like Masoud Shojaei and former Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah.
Get the lowdown on all the groups: