England will play their first game in Qatar on Monday afternoon (1pm; TV: Live on BBC1), and first up for Gareth Southgate’s men is a test against Iran at Khalifa International Stadium. Can the Three Lions confirm favouritism and avoid a match-day one slip-up? Our match preview and betting tips will answer that.
Ahead of this World Cup, the England team has not exactly been firing on all cylinders. In fact, Gareth Southgate’s men have been underwhelming. Sure, they came back in exciting fashion against the Germans when last in action, but they still didn’t pick up a win, while defensive holes were there for all to see.
When they kick off on Monday, the Three Lions will be without a win in six games, four of which they have failed to score in. It is fair to say that the pressure will be on the men in white to start this tournament on the right foot. They are, after all, fourth favourites with the bookies to win this World Cup tournament.
For the opposition, preparations have gone well. Ahead of their upcoming friendly, their last before Tuesday’s Group B opener, they have won two and drawn one, beating both Nicaragua and Uruguay, and holding Senegal to a 1-1 draw. Their win against the Uruguayans was particularly eye-catching, as they dug deep and delivered a disciplined effort to come out on top by a goal to nil. That win will certainly give Carlos Queiroz’s men the belief that they can cause an upset.
Troubles of an offensive kind
The attacking talent at Gareth Southgate’s disposal has been talked about a lot in recent times. Despite having players such as Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling in the ranks, the Three Lions have found it very difficult to get the ball in the net of late.
Between June and September, they played six UEFA Nations League games. As touched on in this preview above, they scored in just two of those six games, scoring a total of only four goals. That is a big problem.
The importance of keeping things tight and being defensively astute is often spoken about when it comes to competitions like the World Cup, and while that is true, the ability to put teams under pressure and score goals is just as valuable. The English need to improve in that sense or it is likely to be another disappointing foray into tournament football.
Not the easiest test
It looks like everyone expects England to pick up three points on match-day one, and sure, they have quality to do that, but we shouldn’t assume that it will be a straightforward victory, which early odds of 3/10 suggest it will be.
For starters, this Iranian team isn’t accustomed to losing all that often. They have lost just two matches since November 2019. OK, they’ve not always faced the toughest opposition, but they have either drawn or beaten the likes or Uruguay, Bosnia & Herzegovina, South Korea, and Senegal, so they may not be pushovers. What is more, going back to the 2018 World Cup, the Iranians went out in the group stages, but they acquitted themselves well. They picked up four points and conceded only three goals, which was relatively impressive given that they were in a group with Spain and Portugal, both of whom they conceded just a single goal against.
With someone like Mehdi Taremi, who scored 20 goals and registered 12 assists in 32 appearances for FC Porto last season, England’s opponents carry an offensive threat. Under Carlos Queiroz, they have always been disciplined and hard to get at. They have only conceded more than once in two games since the end of 2019.
What’s the betting angle?
At the prices, ‘Both Teams to Score’ (BTTS) looks good. England’s attack wasn’t firing in the Nations League, but they did get three against the Germans last time out, and realistically, whether they adopt an attacking approach or not, they’ve got too much quality in the offensive areas not to score in this game.
Defensively, though, we must worry for the English. Whichever defensive set-up Southgate opts for, there will be questions asked. That is because nobody at the back has covered themselves in glory for England in recent times. England have kept just one clean sheet in their last six, while they have conceded nine in their last three.
At the same time, Iran have only failed to score on one occasion since October 2019. If we look back to the 2018 World Cup, what with their squad being similar, they scored against both Morocco and Portugal, so we shouldn’t be surprised if they have a say in this.
Taremi to hurt England?
Anybody looking for something at a big price should consider Iran’s hitman to find the net. Frankly, the forward is too good to be priced so disrespectfully. Yes, he’s now playing for Iran and not FC Porto, and yes, his team has a tough task against the Three Lions, but the pressure is largely off them, while the forward is no stranger to scoring goals.
Moreover, we know that England’s backline is not the sturdiest, ask any of their recent UEFA Nations League opponents, all of whom found the net against Southgate’s men both home and away.
After all, the powerful forward has scored eight goals in his last 15 starts for Iran, while he has a reasonably impressive xG average of 0.43 per 90 minutes for his nation. So these are our brace of betting tips, at best odds, for this World Cup opener preview:
- Both teams to score @ 7/4 with Bet365 or William Hill.
- Mehdi Taremi to score at any time @ 15/2 with Bet365.
Bradley Gibbs is an experienced football writer. He is an expert analyst on Premier League, and all global football leagues & tournaments, for Just Bookies. Bradley has been published by many respected outlets, including USA Betting and the Racing & Football Outlook. He has also written betting strategy guides.