World Cup Group B Analysis: Gareth Southgate’s Moment of Reckoning is USA’s Young Stars vs Gareth Bale’s Wales

World Cup Group B Analysis: Gareth Southgate’s Moment of Reckoning is USA’s Young Stars vs Gareth Bale’s Wales

  • England will start off their World Cup campaign as the huge favourites to pick up maximum points in Group B
  • On paper, the Three Lions should overpower a young American side, a Wales side dependent on Gareth Bale's masterclass, and a defensive-minded Iran
  • After Gareth Southgate's side, it will be a cutthroat battle for the other qualification position from the group

Will it finally come home? This will be the lingering question when Gareth Southgate leads the Three Lions to his third major football event.

England have come desperately close in recent times to lifting a major title.

Southgate has arguably the second-deepest pool of talent after reigning champions France, and you get the feeling his job would literally be on the line here, his contract notwithstanding.

Gareth Southgate, England, Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Wales, Sardar Azmoun, Iran, Christian Pulisic, USA, Qatar 2022, World Cup, Raheem Sterling, Mehdi Taremi, Mason Mount
England Head Coach Gareth Southgate hopes to lead the Three Lions to glory. Photo by Clive Rose.
Source: Getty Images

Sports Brief takes a look at all 8 groups, their star attractions, weakness and strongholds as Qatar gets ready to rumble. You can read Group A's here and Group C's here.

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England

  • Star player: Harry Kane
  • Rising star: Jude Bellingham
  • Coach: Gareth Southgate
  • Sports Brief's predicted finish: Quarter-finals
  • FIFA Ranking: 5

Hate him or love him, Southgate is a tournament football maverick. His methods have been largely unorthodox, but it has always been a case of the end justifying the means. After Russia 2018 semi-finals and the Euro finals, his side can only aim higher.

However, their run-up to Qatar has been short of convincing. Their lacklustre run and subsequent elimination from the Nations League left a lot to be desired. Southgate needs answers and the short time for preparation before the Iran opener doesn't do him any favours.

The only disadvantage of having a deep talent pool is choosing who to call up and who to leave behind. Southgate has always attracted criticism for his selection, and the Harry Maguire choice over a thriving Fikayo Tomori was the standout example for Qatar.

He largely called up a tried and tested squad that already knows his system, which might alternate between 3-4-3 or 4-3-2-1 depending on the opponent's strength.

The team's over-reliance on skipper Harry Kane's brilliance might be a problem, especially with the disappointing run of form his striking partners Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling are in. Southgate's plan is dependent on Kane performing well.

Gareth Southgate, England, Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Wales, Sardar Azmoun, Iran, Christian Pulisic, USA, Qatar 2022, World Cup, Raheem Sterling, Mehdi Taremi, Mason Mount
England striker and captain Harry Kane is key to his nation's success at the World Cup. Photo by Ettore Ferrari.
Source: Getty Images

Southgate has attempted to mitigate this by calling up James Maddison, who offers something different from all the other attackers.

Young midfield duo Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice are also poised to star together, with Kalvin Phillips set for cameos off the bench.

Pickford or Ramsdale or Pope?

There will also be a question of whether the number one choice Jordan Pickford deserves to start ahead of Aaron Ramsdale and Nick Pope, who are having flying seasons with their respective clubs.

Reece James' injury and Kyle Walker's lack of fitness will give Trent Alexander-Arnold a free run, but he remains a defensive liability, with Kieran Tripper an option as well.

Possible XI: Pickford; Maguire, Stones, Dier, TAA, Bellingham, Rice, Trippier, Sterling, Mount, Kane

USA

  • Star player: Christian Pulisic
  • Rising star: Antonee Robinson
  • Coach: Gregg Berhalter
  • Sports Brief's predicted finish: Group Stage
  • FIFA Ranking: 16

Gregg Berhalter's USA will be the youngest side at the World Cup, with only DeAndre Yedlin having prior World Cup experience. The team is littered with players in top leagues who, in a few years time, could be world-beaters. Qatar 2022 sounds like a good place to start.

For a country known for a different type of football, the emerging stars will look to rewrite history and better the quarter-final appearance of 2002.

Gareth Southgate, England, Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Wales, Sardar Azmoun, Iran, Christian Pulisic, USA, Qatar 2022, World Cup, Raheem Sterling, Mehdi Taremi, Mason Mount
Christian Pulisic will spearhead America's World Cup campaign. Photo by John Dorton.
Source: Getty Images

Berhalter's decision to leave Gronigen's Ricardo Pepi has been met with a lot of criticism. In all honesty, he doesn't have ideal options for a decent and consistent centre-forward, to supplement the efforts of Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson.

Josh Sargent might have to fill in, but the Norwich City star is better off coming from the wing.

An inability to score goals

USA's major weakness during the CONCACAF qualifying stage was the inability to score away from home.

The aforementioned two wingers are the USA's most potent players from a pool of very exciting players. The midfield is also stacked with talent, with Juventus' Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams included.

Yunus Musah also deserves a shout, who at 19 years, has already shown potential with his composed feet at Valencia.

Possible XI: Turner, Zimmerman, Long, Robinson, Dest, Musah, McKennie, Adams, Aaronson, Sargent, Pulisic

Wales

  • Star player: Gareth Bale
  • Rising star: Neco Williams
  • Coach: Rob Page
  • Sports Brief's predicted finish: Round of 16
  • FIFA Ranking: 19

Featuring in their first World Cup since 1958, the Welsh side will bring a blend of retiring legends and young players to the grand stage.

It goes without saying that Gareth Bale will be the star attraction, with the forward having a knack for springing up with vital contributions at vital moments.

Gareth Southgate, England, Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Wales, Sardar Azmoun, Iran, Christian Pulisic, USA, Qatar 2022, World Cup, Raheem Sterling, Mehdi Taremi, Mason Mount
Wales captain Gareth Bale will aim to bring the surprises yet again. Photo by Marcio Machado.
Source: Getty Images

Aaron Ramsey and Jose Allen will be behind him, but the latter's recent fitness issues might be a concern.

Head Coach Rob Page's place in Welsh history is already safe, but he will be tempted to test the waters further by coming out of the group.

His major undoing, however, will be his side's inability to keep the ball and readiness to suffer. In fact, Wales are often happy to let the opponent dominate proceedings but are devastating in counterattacks.

Despite his advanced age, Bale remains one of the quickest players alongside Daniel James and Brennan Johnson. Johnson might be an option from the bench, however, to allow for an out-and-out number 9 in Kieffer Moore, who might provide a different dimension.

Page is expected to stick with a three-man defence, which would allow Neco Williams to prod forward with intent.

Watch out for Wales's clash against England on November 29. A clash between neighbours will be a front-row box office match.

Possible XI: Hennessey, Davies, Rodon, Ampadu, Roberts, Ramsey, Allen, Williams, Bale, Johnson, James

Iran

  • Star player: Sardar Azmoun
  • Rising star: Saeed Ezatolahi
  • Coach: Carlos Quieroz
  • Sports Brief's predicted finish: Group Stage
  • FIFA Ranking: 20

Pundits might have ruled out Iran, but Carlos Quieroz's return should concern Group B opponents. Quieroz is a defensive-minded coach whose teams are often difficult to break down.

Formerly at Egypt, he led the Pharaohs to the AFCON finals earlier this year, before a penalty shootout saw him lose the title to Senegal. Egypt only conceded 2 goals in the whole tournament.

He also returns for a second stint with Iran, having been there from 2011 to 2019. In the 2014 and 2018 World Cups, they faced powerhouses in Argentina, Spain and Portugal - and conceded only three goals cumulatively. Defensive genius, I tell you.

Gareth Southgate, England, Harry Kane, Gareth Bale, Wales, Sardar Azmoun, Iran, Christian Pulisic, USA, Qatar 2022, World Cup, Raheem Sterling, Mehdi Taremi, Mason Mount
Iran's striker Sardar Azmoun will need to find the back of the net consistently. Photo by Mark Nolan.
Source: Getty Images

However, despite their defensive resoluteness, Iran doesn't score either and struggle to break down teams.

In his preferred 4-1-4-1 formation, Quieroz will start with Sardar Azmoun as the lead striker. The Bayer Leverkusen striker has been out with injury and should he fail to recover in time, FC Porto's Mehdi Taremi might fill the void.

Azmoun's place is also in jeopardy due to his involvement in the anti-government protests in his country.

If Azmoun is fit, it will be interesting to see how they will be accommodated on the same team. Apart from the two strikers, Team Melli will heavily depend on former Atletico Madrid Youth midfielder Saeed Ezatolahi to dictate their game's tempo.

Possible XI: Beiranvand, Kanaanizadegan, Khalilzadeh, Moharrami, Hajsafi, Ezatolahi, Nourollahi, Amiri, Jahanbakhsh, Azmoun, Taremi

You can read Group A's here and Group C's here.

Source: SportsBrief.com