England take their first steps on what they hope will be a lengthy World Cup adventure today when they collide with Iran at the Khalifa International Stadium. Anything other than a routine win against the lowest-ranked team in Group B would be a major matchday one surprise, though the Three Lions look primed to perform in Al Rayyan.
We’ve assembled an info-laden stats pack for today’s crucial Group B opener below, which contains useful nuggets on shots, shots on target, xG, cards, corners and more from teams’ World Cup qualification campaigns. Use this data along with my Stats Pack Guide when putting our bet builders together for the match.
Kyle Walker has been training with his England teammates, but having not played a game since early October, the Man City star could be omitted at right wing-back in favour of Kieran Trippier.
Jude Bellingham should partner Declan Rice in midfield, while Gareth Southgate has a decision or two to make in attack where Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling are vying for two positions.
Experienced campaigner and key midfield engine cog Omid Ebrahimi failed to make the cut for Iran’s World Cup squad through injury, though Bayer Leverkusen attacker Sardar Azmoun travelled to Qatar despite picking up a muscle tear last month.
Azmoun will be pushing to start today, while FC Porto’s Mehdi Taremi could also trouble England from wider positions. Iran are potent counter-attackers, so expect Carlos Queiroz’s side to sit deep before springing forward at pace.
England blitzed through their World Cup qualification campaign, pocketing 26 points from a possible 30 to top an admittedly weak group ahead of Poland, Albania, Hungary, Andorra, San Marino.
The Three Lions scored more goals (39) than any other team in the UEFA qualifying region, which isn’t all that surprising given the level of opponents they faced and their sky-high tally was supported by excellent figures in a number of attacking metrics.
England endured a miserable time in the summer’s Nations League, however, where they struggled to cut the mustard against several stronger sides and Gareth Southgate’s troops are aiming to snap a six-game winless run against Iran today.
Iran’s route to Qatar was a little more complicated than England’s and Team Melli had to navigate their way through two separate groups – both of which were topped – to secure their passage to the World Cup.
Iran netted an impressive 2.72 goals per 90 minutes across their 18 qualification fixtures, though that output was warped slightly by a thumping 10-0 victory over an abject Cambodia side in June last year. Indeed, Iran lodged just 1.5 goals per 90 in their second qualification group, though that was enough to claim first place ahead of the Korea Republic.
Defensively, Carlos Queiroz’s side were notably robust, conceding just 1.50 shots on target and 1.89 corners per 90. Iran kept a clean sheet in 70% of their fixtures overall in their second qualification section.
Player Shots and Shots on Target
Harry Kane remains unchallenged as England’s first-choice centre-forward and the 29-year-old rarely fails to deliver the goods. His 5.04 shots and 2.91 shots on target tallies (p/90) during the Three Lions’ qualification journey allowed him to top the pile for both metrics comfortably.
Flanksmen Raheem Sterling (2.42) and Bukayo Saka (2.70) also ranked well for shots per 90 and England’s wingers could find joy again today with Iran short on top-tier quality at full-back. Much-maligned centre-half Harry Maguire (1.27) is a consistent threat from set pieces and could be a useful option in the shot markets at bigger odds.
Many will recall Alireza Jahanbakhsh’s limp performances during his ill-fated stint with Brighton, though the winger remains a key figure for Iran and he clocked a decent 2.63 shots per 90 minutes in World Cup qualification fixtures for his country.
Mehdi Taremi was Iran’s next-best performer in that department (1.59) with Sardar Azmoun (1.53) just a little further behind. That duo along with Jahanbakhsh represent your best options in the shot markets for Iran today, though don’t expect Team Melli to create a flurry of opportunities.
Player Goals and Assists
Harry Kane plundered a superb 12 goals in eight World Cup qualification appearances and the 29-year-old needs just two more strikes to draw level with Wayne Rooney as England’s all-time top goalscorer.
Kane hit half of England’s four goals in the Nations League over the summer, with Luke Shaw and Mason Mount hitting the other two. Harry Maguire’s record in front of goal for England is excellent for a defender, while Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling know how to finish chances if they fall their way.
Sardar Azmoun was a prolific presence for Iran through their successful qualification run, so his inclusion in their World Cup squad is a major boost. Mehdi Taremi is a striker with Champions League experience and his eight goals in 13 qualifiers was an excellent haul.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh was this country’s joint-top scorer (four) alongside Taremi in Iran’s second qualification group, while back-up option Karim Ansarifard did most of his damage in one game against Cambodia when he notched four times.
England should control the Lion’s share of possession today and if they are exposed defensively, it’s likely to be on the counter-attack. With that considered, Harry Maguire, John Stones and Declan Rice seem like the best card candidates in England’s ranks.
Rice (1.01 fouls p/90) will be tasked with plugging holes in central areas if Iran do manage to find gaps on the break, while Maguire (1.27) and Stones (1.09) can both look awkward in one-on-one situations, especially when caught high up the pitch on turnovers.
Iran Cards Drawn
Alireza Jahanbakhsh (fouled 1.22 p/90), Mehdi Taremi (0.92) and Serdar Azmoun stand out for Iran in terms of technical quality and that attack-minded trio carry the most card-drawing potential in Iran’s ranks today.
Sardar Azmoun isn’t listed among Iran’s most-fouled players during the World Cup qualification phase, though his ability to link play should earn him attention from Declan Rice. Jahanbakhsh and Taremi can trouble Maguire and Stones respectively when jetting forward to support Azmoun more centrally.
Match-Ups to watch
Harry Maguire vs Alireza Jahanbaksh
John Stones vs Mehdi Taremi
Declan Rice vs Ehsan Haji Safi
With Iran likely to be on the back foot for most of today’s game, digging out card candidates from their camp is a slightly easier task and defensive options Sadegh Moharrami, Saeid Ezatolahi and Shojae Khalilzadeh all look backable.
Moharrami (five cards) should come under intense pressure at right back, while Khalilzadeh (1.18 fouls p/90) should have an equally busy day at the office at centre-half.
Anchorman Ezatolahi (three cards) meanwhile, likes a tackle and the 26-year-old, who plays his football in Denmark with Vejle, should have plenty of challenges to get through this afternoon.
England Cards Drawn
Harry Kane’s (fouled 2.44 times p/90) potency in front of goals routinely makes him a lightning rod for aggressive tackles and England’s number nine should have 33-year-old Khalilzadeh breathing down his neck today.
To Kane’s left, one of Phil Foden or Raheem Sterling (fouled 2.26 times p/90) should have Sadegh Moharrami on toast, while Jude Bellingham (1.61) could be clattered by Saeid Ezatolahi on occasion.
With Declan Rice holding the fort, Bellingham should have licence to maraud forward and his surges should put him firmly on Ezatolahi’s radar.
Match-Ups to watch
Sadegh Moharrami vs Phil Foden/Raheem Sterling
Alireza Jahanbaksh vs Jude Bellingham
Majid Hosseini vs Harry Kane/Bukayo Saka