England’s mission to win their first international trophy since winning the World Cup in 1966 begins when they face Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium.
Iran will feel they have been dealt a bad hand as they will have to compete against three teams that are within the top 20 in the FIFA rankings for a spot in the knockout stages.
But Team Meli will rely on their defensive resilience to grind out a positive result against the Euro 2020 finalists.
The current crop of England players is full of young, talented, and confident footballers, and their performances in international competitions have been encouraging thus far.
The Three Lions made it to the World Cup semifinals for the first time in 28 years in Russia before setting up a Euro 2020 final against Italy.
England are still trophyless in the post-1966 era, but Southgate’s troops have come the closest to ending that drought.
Many would point towards their dismal UEFA Nations League campaign and a winless run of six games heading into the tournament. But with the World Cup only weeks away, England players could be forgiven for their lapse of concentration.
Iran’s recent form
Iran will make their third successive World Cup appearance in Qatar 2022.
However, their participation became doubtful when Ukraine officially asked FIFA to expel them from the World Cup because of Iran’s pro-Russia stance in the Russia-Ukraine war.
Even a section of Iran’s own fans demanded to banish Iran from the competition because of Iran’s treatment of female fans.
Carlos Queiroz’s men wrapped up their World Cup preparations with a 2-0 loss over Tunisia.
The loss marked Iran’s third defeat in their last 22 matches, but Iran’s lack of threat in front of the opposition goal will be a cause of concern for Quieroz.
Not finding the net against fellow World Cup team Tunisia will not do much favour to boost the morale of Iran’s forwards.
Historically, Iran have scored 0.6 goals per match in the World Cup, which is the worst return for any World Cup teams which have played double digit number of matches in the tournament.
Man City fullback Kyle Walker flew with the team to Qatar, but he will not be available to play against Iran as he recovers from injury.
So, Newcastle star Kieran Trippier is expected to get the nod at right-back.
James Maddison missed a few training sessions, which indicates he might not be involved as well.
In their Euro campaign, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were England’s go-to midfield combo. Phillips is available for selection, but Southgate might hand Jude Bellingham his first World Cup start since the Man City man did not play much football after returning from a lengthy injury layoff.
Iran left their experienced midfielder Omid Ebrahimi at home as he sustained an unfortunate groin injury. But, Quieroz was unwilling to give up on Bayer Leverkusen striker Sardar Azmoun who has a calf muscle injury.
The England match will come too soon for Azmous, so Porto’s Mehdi Taremi will take on the scoring responsibilities.
Former Brighton forward Alireza Jahanbakhsh will also feature in the Iran attack.
Iran have never managed to win against a European opposition in the World Cup and it seems unlikely that will change on Monday.
England will bring too much firepower for Iran too hold off. Our prediction is a 3-1 win for England.