Clashes between England, Iran, the United States and Wales mean World Cup Group B is laced with political tension, but also boasts the highest average FIFA world ranking of any of the sections in Qatar.

Despite heading to the Middle East on the back of a six-game winless run, England undoubtedly start as favourites with Gareth Southgate’s men looking to finally end a 56-year wait to claim a major international trophy.

The Three Lions have come close recently, reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup four years ago and the final of Euro 2020 on home soil.

However, a hectic schedule for Southgate’s squad with their clubs and little preparation time could see them caught cold in the group stages.

Injury concerns have plagued England in the lead-up and Harry Maguire is short of match fitness after falling down the pecking order at Manchester United.

At the other end of the field, it was a lack of creativity from open play that saw England relegated from the UEFA Nations League as they twice failed to beat any of Germany, Hungary or Italy in recent months.

A goal drought was washed away in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Germany at Wembley in their final competitive game before the tournament and the pressure is on Southgate to get the likes of Mason Mount, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Jude Bellingham performing as regularly at international level as they do for their clubs.

England’s hopes could though come down to keeping captain Harry Kane fit as the Tottenham Hotspur striker bears down on becoming his country’s highest ever goalscorer at international level.

Kane is just two goals short of Wayne Rooney’s record of 53 and is one of the favourites to walk away with another Golden Boot as the World Cup’s top goalscorer.

- Iran’s chaotic preparation -

Iran’s preparations have been besieged by political turmoil.

Protests have swept across the nation in the wake of the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the country’s morality police.

Activists, including former Iranian international Ali Karimi, have called on the team to make a stance in joining the protest movement with the eyes of the world upon them in Qatar.

On the field, with former Real Madrid coach Carlos Queiroz back as manager, Iran beat Uruguay in a friendly in September to back up an impressive qualifying campaign.

Star striker Sardar Azmoun has been named in the squad despite injury.

A meeting with the United States brings back good memories for Team Melli of a 2-1 win in a politically-charged World Cup clash in 1998.

The Americans are back on the biggest stage after failing to qualify for Russia four years ago and have a squad now filled with experience at the highest level in Europe.

However, manager Gregg Berhalter has been heavily criticised for a lack of spark in a run of one win in five games heading to Qatar.

Wales are back at a World Cup for the first time since 1958 in what could be Gareth Bale’s farewell on the international stage.

Bale has helped inspire his country to the knockout stages of the last two European Championships, famously reaching the semi-finals in 2016.

At 33 and now featuring for LAFC, Bale is no longer the force he once was and managing he and Aaron Ramsey through three group games in eight days will be a challenge for Rob Page.

But Wales will still fancy their chances of getting through with their first two games against the USA and Iran before a grudge match against neighbours England.

Country profile - England

Best World Cup performance: Winners in 1966

Other honours:  None

FIFA ranking: Fifth

Main clubs: Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur

How they qualified: England finished first in European qualifying Group I

Coach: Gareth Southgate, 52, was appointed in 2016 and revitalised a previously moribund squad, leading England to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and a runners-up finish at Euro 2020 – their first appearance in a major final for 55 years. However, England’s painful penalty shoot-out defeat against Italy in the Euro final triggered criticism of Southgate’s cautious tactics that continues to haunt the coach.

Key player: Harry Kane could become England’s all-time leading scorer at the World Cup after reaching 51 goals for the Three Lions – just two behind record holder Wayne Rooney. The Tottenham Hotspur star has never won a major trophy with club or country but his predatory instincts make him one of the world’s top strikers. Keeping Kane fit and firing will be Southgate’s top priority in Qatar.


Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford, Aaron Ramsdale, Nick Pope.

Defenders: Kieran Trippier, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kyle Walker, Ben White, Harry Maguire, John Stones, Eric Dier, Conor Coady, Luke Shaw.

Midfielders: Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham, Kalvin Phillips, Jordan Henderson, Conor Gallagher, Mason Mount.

Forwards: Harry Kane, Callum Wilson, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish, James Maddison.

Group fixtures

November 21: England v Iran

November 25: England v USA 

November 29: Wales v England

Country profile - Wales

Best World Cup performance: Quarter-finals in 1958

Other notable performances: European Championship semi-finalists in 2016

FIFA ranking: 19th

Main clubs: Cardiff City, Swansea City

How they qualified: Beat Ukraine 1-0 in playoff final

Coach: Rob Page, 48, was promoted to the role as national team boss due to Ryan Giggs’ suspension and then resignation over allegations of domestic abuse. Page, 48, had a far more humble playing career than his predecessor as a defender in the lower leagues of English football. But he has proved an inspired leader at international level, leading Wales out of their group at Euro 2020 and to a first World Cup in 64 years. His achievements have been rewarded with a new contract running through to the next World Cup in 2026.

Key player: Gareth Bale has the crowning glory he craved on an impressive CV for club and country by finally making it to the World Cup. Now playing his club football in MLS with LAFC, Bale remains the talisman for his nation. The five-time Champions League winner followed up scoring twice in a 2-1 win over Austria in the playoff semi-finals with the only goal against Ukraine to send Wales to Qatar. At 33, there are rumours the former Real Madrid forward may even bow out from international football after the tournament.


Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey, Danny Ward, Adam Davies

Defenders: Ben Davies, Ben Cabango, Tom Lockyer, Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham, Ethan Ampadu, Chris Gunter, Neco Williams, Connor Roberts

Midfielders: Sorba Thomas, Joe Allen, Matthew Smith, Dylan Levitt, Harry Wilson, Joe Morrell, Jonny Williams, Aaron Ramsey, Rubin Colwill

Forwards: Gareth Bale, Kieffer Moore, Mark Harris, Brennan Johnson, Daniel James

Group fixtures

November 21: USA v Wales

November 25: Wales v Iran

November 29: Wales v England

Country profile - Iran

Best World Cup performance: First round in five previous appearances

Other honours: Asian Cup winners in 1968, 1972, 1976

FIFA ranking: 20

Main clubs: Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan

How they qualified: Iran topped Asian Group A in third round

Coach: Mozambique-born Carlos Queiroz, 69, thought his dreams of a fourth consecutive appearance at a World Cup as a coach had been dashed when Egypt lost to Senegal in an African play-off. But divisions in the Iran camp over Croat coach Dragan Skocic led to his departure and the return of the former Real Madrid manager. Queiroz, who was also formerly assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, led the Asian giants to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups. After coming last in their group in Brazil and then third in Russia, he will have realistic hopes of reaching the second round this time. 

Key player: The passion of Bayer Leverkusen forward Sardar Azmoun for goals is matched only by his love of horses. When he is not scoring for club or country, the 27-year-old is involved in his horse racing and breeding complex in the northern town where he was born. Often called the Messi of Iran, he averages two goals from every three appearances for the national team. Azmoun played for three Russian clubs before moving to Germany this year and is renowned for his acceleration, innovation and aerial power. Some Iranians have given Azmoun the ultimate compliment – comparing him to the legendary Ali Daei. 


Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand, Amir Abedzadeh, Hossein Hosseini, Payam Niazmand.

Defenders: Ehsan Hajsafi, Morteza Pouraliganji, Ramin Rezaeian, Milad Mohammadi, Hossein Kanani, Shojae Khalilzadeh, Sadegh Moharrami, Rouzbeh Cheshmi, Majid Hosseini, Abolfazl Jalali.

Midfielders: Ahmad Noorollahi, Saman Ghoddos, Vahid Amiri, Saeid Ezatolahi, Alireza Jahanbakhsh, Mehdi Torabi, Ali Gholizadeh, Ali Karimi.

Forwards: Karim Ansarifard, Sardar Azmoun, Mehdi Taremi.

Group fixtures

November 21: England v Iran

November 25: Wales v Iran

November 29: Iran v USA

Country profile - United States

Best World Cup performance: Third place in 1930

Other honours:  CONCACAF Championship/Gold Cup winners in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013, 2017, 2021; CONCACAF Nations League winners in 2019-20

FIFA ranking: 16th

How they qualified: The United States finished third in the CONCACAF zone final qualifying standings, behind Canada and Mexico

Coach: Gregg Berhalter, 49, was appointed head coach in 2018 in the wake of the US’s failure to qualify for the Russia World Cup. A former US international defender, Berhalter was a key member of the squad who reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea and was also an unused squad member at the 2006 World Cup. Berhalter went into coaching in 2011 after retiring as a player, joining the backroom staff at the Los Angeles Galaxy. He spent two years at Swedish club Hammarby IF before taking over as Columbus Crew coach in 2013.

Key player: Christian Pulisic. If the US upset the odds and progress beyond the group stage in Qatar, the chances are that Pulisic will have had a lot to do with it. The 24-year-old Chelsea star has consistently been the Americans’ most important player in recent years, one of the few individuals capable of producing game-changing moments on the biggest stage. The man known as “Captain America” was a crucial contributor during the US qualification campaign, which included a hat-trick against Panama in March.

Full squad

Goalkeepers: Matt Turner, Sean Johnson, Ethan Horvath

Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Sergino Dest, Aaron Long, Shaq Moore, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson, Joe Scally, DeAndre Yedlin, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders: Brenden Aaronson, Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah, Cristian Roldan

Forwards: Jesus Ferreira, Jordan Morris, Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Joshua Sargent, Timothy Weah, Haji Wright

Group fixtures

November 21: USA v Wales

November 25: England v USA

November 29: Iran v USA

Text inputs from AFP