Four years ago England fans were sucked in by their journey to the World Cup semi-finals, the Three Lions‘ first appearance in the final four since Italia ’90. But just like in Italy, it ended in heartbreak with Croatia coming from behind to win after extra-time and Belgium then beating England in the third-place playoff.
England went close to winning their first major trophy at Euro 2020 but there was more heartbreak, this time in the final, losing to Italy on penalties.
But just over a year on from that tournament, and England have regressed. Despite cruising through to the World Cup, England go into the tournament without a win in their past six matches, drawing three and losing three. All six of those results came in the Uefa Nations League which saw England suffer relegation, finishing bottom of their group behind Italy, Hungary and Germany — including a 4-0 defeat to Hungary.
Iran, meanwhile, are preparing for a third consecutive appearance at the World Cup — their best-ever run of participation at the tournament — and sixth showing overall. In Qatar, however, Iran will be hoping to reach the second round for the first ever time, having bowed out of the group stage in their past four appearances and a first-round exit in their debut tournament (when there was no group stage).
Team Melli were made to work hard for their spot at the World Cup, put in two very interesting groups during AFC qualifying. In the second round, they finished just one point clear of second-placed Iraq and three ahead of third-placed Bahrain, with only the top two going through. Then, they battled it out alongside South Korea in the third round, but both teams managed to seal passage to the tournament – some way ahead of third-placed UAE.
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England vs Iran match stats
England’s most recent match, a 3-3 draw against Germany at Wembley, was well and truly a game of two (differing) halves. The first half was a goalless, boring affair but things then kicked into life, with all six goals coming after half-time. And that’s been the case for a lot of England matches. Of the 20 goals scored in England matches in 2022, both for and against, 15 have come after half-time.
England may be winless in their past six, but they should have enough quality when the time comes to beat Iran. However, their defence has proven very suspect of late and that is likely to be the case once again, especially with no Reece James at right-back. England have kept just two clean sheets in their eight games in 2022.
In recent international tournaments, set-pieces have been England’s big attacking strength. The ability to win free-kicks and penalties saw England through the group stage in Russia 2018, where England scored five set-piece goals as a team. They matched that figure three years later at the Euros and more recently Kane has scored more headed goals than any player in Europe’s seven major leagues this season (5). Reflecting his complete skillset as a forward, no player has played more through balls in the Champions League in 2022/23 than Kane on six, alongside Lionel Messi.
England also have “hands down, the best ball-playing centre-back there is” in John Stones, according to Raheem Sterling, who told GQ Sports: “On the field he steps up a level but off the field he’s an absolute child, and that’s why I love him.” Alongside Yerry Mina, Stones was one of two players to score multiple headed goals in Russia 2018.
Bukayo Saka has been tipped to earn his first World Cup start and former Arsenal player now turned coach, Jack Wilshere has tipped the 21-year old to shine in Qatar.
“What amazes me about him is he always makes the right decision, it’s incredible. It’s so rare for a young player – he’s only just turned 21 – to instinctively know what is right in any given situation. I stress with my under-18 players to study him.
“If the situation calls for a five-yard pass he’ll do it but if he has to beat someone he’ll do that too. Bukayo always gets it right, which is a skill itself. His level of understanding is that he’ll know if he plays a certain pass, the free player will be there. He won’t try and force it.
“I know I’ll be accused of bias because Bukayo plays for Arsenal, but honestly he has special gifts.”