Well, that was fun.
England were once a side that used to begin major tournaments with a whimper. Think the drab draw with Sweden in 2002, the unconvincing triumph over Paraguay in 2006, and Rob Green’s blunder against the Americans. A steady improvement would then ensue, gradually building expectation before an inevitable disappointing exit in the knockout phase.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions do things a little differently, however.
Their 6-2 thumping of Iran was their third straight opening game victory at a major tournament. The comfortable triumph has left them on the verge of qualifying for the round of 16 with games against the USMNT and Wales upcoming.
Here’s how Southgate’s England can confirm their place in the 2022 World Cup knockout stages over the next week.
Expectations were tempered heading into the opening game against Iran. Carlos Queiroz-coached sides are typically stubborn outfits that lack inspiration in attack. Their game plan was predictable, but they executed it well enough in the opening stages.
England, however, played with the sort of swagger that fans have craved for so long. Their young lions roared as Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka scored the opening two goals before Harry Kane expertly picked out Raheem Sterling to triple England’s advantage before half-time.
Iran were simply overwhelmed by a progressive and exuberant Three Lions, who continued to assert their authority after the break. Saka added a fourth before substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish scored either side of a conciliatory Mehdi Taremi brace.
The drab encounter that many projected beforehand never manifested as England produced a scintillating attacking display in a 6-2 triumph. It was the perfect start to their World Cup campaign, and there’s no doubt that Skinner & Baddiel would’ve been added to a few more Spotify playlists.
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England are next in action on Friday 25 November against the USA. The Americans were held to a 1-1 draw against Wales in their Group B opener, but they showed enough in the first half to suggest that they might cause a vulnerable England defence a few problems on Matchday 2.
The Three Lions then round off the group against neighbours Wales on Tuesday 29 November. England pipped the Welsh the last time they met a major tournament in 2016, and the magic of the Red Dragon means this will be far from a walk in the park for Southgate’s side.
They’ll want to have qualification wrapped up by the time Matchday 3 rolls around.
England’s hopes of progressing into the round of 16 were further aided by USA’s 1-1 draw with Wales on Matchday 1. The Three Lions are in a great position at the top of Group B and their mightily superior goal difference means they may well only need a point from their remaining two games to advance.
However, England will be expected to win their final two group games and finish top of the group. Should they finish the group with seven points, meaning they win one and draw one of their next two games, they’ll also finish top.
Victory against the USA on Matchday 2 will see them progress, and they’ll be all but guaranteed of top spot if Wales fail to beat Iran.
Even if England finish with five points, they will likely top the group on goal difference if both Wales and the USA beat Iran. However, should Iran win their next two and England draw both, then Queiroz’s men will top Group B from out of nowhere with England finishing in second.
Taking into account their performance against Iran and their upcoming opponents, it’d be a major surprise if England don’t top the group. Only a disaster would see them exit the World Cup before the knockouts, with even a second-place finish being unlikely.