England England captain Harry Kane has expressed confidence ahead of his side's World Cup opener against Iran, saying, "We have done well in major tournaments, so there's just one more step to take." The 1966 World Cup winners have suffered on the international stage for more than 50 years since that famous triumph, but they have shown they are striving for glory again by reaching the semifinals four years ago and the Euro 2020 final.
So the Three Lions come here as one of the tournament favourites, with Gareth Southgate's men having come through the qualifying phase with flying colours to secure their place at the finals. England went without defeat in all ten games (W8, D2), scoring 39 goals and conceding just three. That was the best goal difference of any European qualifier in the group stage (+36).
However, England's World Cup bid is in danger of faltering as they have failed to win in their last six games (D3, L3) and have been relegated from the UEFA Nations League as a result. None of the measly four goals in that period came before halftime, giving new fuel to Southgate's critics, who accuse the 52-year-old of being too conservative with his initial game plan.
Iran's chances of reaching a third consecutive World Cup finals looked bleak after ending 2019 with two second-round qualifying defeats. However, the pandemic allowed them to hit the reset button and make some crucial changes. One of them was the replacement of coach Marc Wilmots with Dragan Skočić. Under his guidance, they won their four remaining second-round matches and eight out of ten games (D1, L1) in the third round.
Despite Skočić's relative success, Carlos Queiroz was chosen to lead Iran into this World Cup and he has made a solid start in his second term, going unbeaten in his first three games (W2, D1) before suffering a defeat to Tunisia in their final pre-season game on Wednesday. He now hopes a positive result in Doha will see his side through the group stage for the first time and give fans back home something to cheer about amid the ongoing unrest.
Players to watch: England’s KaneEngland's Kane scored two of the last four goals and is on the hunt for history as he hopes to become the first player to be top scorer at two different World Cups. No Iranian player was involved in more goals in the third round of Asian qualifying for the World Cup than Mehdi Taremi (G4, A2), who also contributed two goals and an assist in his last three appearances for his club.
Hot stat: England have scored 12 of their last 18 World Cup goals from set-pieces.
World Cup trivia: This is England's seventh World Cup finals appearance in a row, making it their longest qualifying streak.
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