Opponents, odds, schedule, players to watch
The United States is a 50-50 bet to advance from its group at the 2022 men’s World Cup, which begins Nov. 21 in Qatar.
The group welcomed its fourth and final team on Sunday. Wales beat Ukraine in a European playoff, and will join England and Iran alongside the U.S. in Group B.
The Americans open against Wales on Nov. 21, then play England on Nov. 25 and Iran on Nov. 29. All three U.S. games kick off at 2 p.m. ET on Fox and Telemundo.
Shortly after Wales’ playoff victory, BetMGM installed the U.S. as a slight favorite on opening day. England is the runaway favorite to win the group (-350) and advance from it (-3000), but the U.S. has the second-best odds — at +550 to top the group, and +100, an even-money bet, to finish top two and reach the Round of 16.
Below is a breakdown of the four Group B foes, their qualifying journeys, their styles, their projected lineups and some players to watch.
How they qualified: England breezed through a relatively mundane qualifying group, and has, over the past four years, re-established itself among the European elite. It followed up a 2018 World Cup semifinal berth with a run to the UEFA Nations League semifinals and the Euro 2020 final. That it would reach Qatar was never in doubt.
Scouting report: Under manager Gareth Southgate, England has prioritized control over potency. But a wealth of young attackers around Harry Kane has given the Three Lions flexibility and dynamism that would’ve once seemed foreign. Southgate has reverted to a three-center-back system against top opponents, but increasingly prefers a 4-2-3-1 that allows him to get one more of Raheem Sterling, Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish on the field. Expect that shape in Qatar — at least at the group stage.
Key players: Kane is the star striker. Sterling can be devilishly difficult to contain on his day, but has slipped a bit from his 2018-19 peak. And Declan Rice, though not the biggest name, is pivotal in midfield — he’ll start no matter the formation, and enable the adventurousness of other midfielders and/or wingbacks.
Projected starting 11 (4-2-3-1): Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham; Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount; Harry Kane
Other potential starters and key reserves: Trent Alexander-Arnold (D), Reece James (D), Kieran Trippier (D), Ben Chilwell (D), Kalvin Phillips (M), Jordan Henderson (M), Jack Grealish (M), Bukayo Saka (M)
How they qualified: It was never quite comfortable or straightforward. But the U.S. recovered from a sputtering start to all but lock up its place in Qatar with a game to spare — and with the top Expected Goal differential in CONCACAF.
Scouting report: Gregg Berhalter, not unlike Southgate, once favored a refined, possession-based approach rooted in control. But after a year on the job, and even more so recently, he realized he had the horses to press the living hell out of opponents. A more up-tempo style suited an up-and-coming generation full of promise. So Berhalter adjusted. That generation coalesced into the youngest national team in the world, and could soon be one of the most exciting. Its two problems are holes at center back and striker.
Key players: The attack revolves around Christian Pulisic, and has since 2017. Tyler Adams, meanwhile, is both the metronome and ground-covering pitbull. Weston McKennie is a do-everything, box-to-box midfielder and among the world’s biggest threats on set pieces. The three came through U.S. youth national teams together, and now, a decade after they first met, are the core of this senior team at 23 years old.
Projected starting 11 (4-3-3): Zack Steffen; Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson; Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie; Christian Pulisic, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah
Other potential starters and key reserves: Matt Turner (G), Aaron Long (D), Brenden Aaronson (M), Gio Reyna (M), Jesus Ferreira (F)
How they qualified: A second-place finish behind Belgium in their group led the Welsh to the European playoffs. They beat Austria in a semifinal, then Ukraine in an emotional final to reach their first World Cup since 1958. They were fortunate to beat the Ukrainians, but, on the whole, deserving of a place in Qatar.
Scouting report: Wales finished the qualifying job in a 3-4-3 that it will likely carry to Qatar. Gareth Bale, the captain and catalyst, plays in a free role beside, and often behind, a target man (Kieffer Moore) and speed merchant (Dan James). There is a chance, though, that interim coach Rob Page will drop Moore to shore up a Joe Allen-Aaron Ramsey midfield that could’ve stood alone six years ago, but that now could be defensively frail.
The U.S. could overwhelm that midfield, and dictate most of this matchup on the World Cup’s opening day. Wales, though, might be perfectly happy to concede the ball. It will likely play direct, neutralizing the American press, and bet on Bale or James to win 1-v-1 battles against the U.S. centerbacks on the counter.
Key players: Bale, once a $111 million menace who terrorized defenses with otherworldly straight-line speed and skill, is now an aging playmaker who’s lost a step or three — but who can still strike a ball with his left foot as well as anybody in the game. Ben Davies and Joe Rodon, both of Tottenham, anchor the defense.
Projected starting 11 (3-4-3): Wayne Hennessey; Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon, Ben Davies; Connor Roberts, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Neco Williams; Gareth Bales, Kieffer Moore, Dan James
Other potential starters and key reserves: Danny Ward (G), Chris Mepham (D), Chris Gunter (D), Joe Morrell (M), Harry Wilson (M), Brennan Johnson (F)
How they qualified: Iran has stood head and shoulders above most of the Asian confederation for years now, and cruised to qualification atop a group that featured South Korea and … not much else. This is Team Melli‘s third consecutive World Cup, and fourth in five.
Scouting report: It’s hard to get a read on the Iranians — and not just because they were unfamiliar to U.S. players and media alike when they were drawn alongside the Americans in Group B. They haven’t played a friendly in over a year, and became accustomed throughout qualifying to a very different type of opponent than the ones they’ll face in Qatar. Against British and American opposition, they’ll likely park two defensive midfielders in front of a shaky back four, and behind an attacking trident that’s more cohesive than it was four years ago.
Key players: That attacking trident comprises the three stars: FC Porto’s Mehdi Taremi, Bayer Leverkusen’s Sardar Azmoun, and Feyenoord’s Alireza Jahanbakhsh.
Projected starting 11 (4-3-3): Alireza Beiranvand; Sadegh Moharrami, Morteza Pouraliganji, Hossein Kanani, Milad Mohammadi; Saeid Ezatolahi, Omid Ebrahimi, Saman Ghoddos; Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi
Other potential starters and key reserves: Amir Abedzadeh (G), Shojae Khalilzadeh (D), Majid Hosseini (D), Vahid Amiri (D/M), Ahmad Nourollahi (M), Ali Gholizadeh (M), Karim Ansarifard (F), Allahyar Sayyadmanesh (F)