England’s pursuit of long-awaited World Cup glory continues on Friday as they take on fellow Group B progression hopefuls United States at Al Bayt Stadium.
Gareth Southgate could not have hoped for a better start to the Qatar showpiece following his side’s sub-par form in the 2022/23 UEFA Nations League season.
Inspired by Bukayo Saka’s goals on either side of half-time, England convincingly outplayed Asian minnows Iran 6-2 in their opening Group B game that saw almost half an hour of injury time.
The six goals the Three Lions put past the Iranians on Monday came as a massive surprise, considering they accumulated a mere four in six Nations League outings in the lead-up to the tournament (D3, L3).
However, England’s best-ever result to open a World Cup and their second-highest all-time triumph at the tournament may have laid the foundation for the first taste of world football glory since 1966.
Nominal visitors in this fixture, the US, will be looking to undermine their rivals’ hopes of launching a morale-boosting winning streak as they hope to recover from a stomach-wrenching 1-1 draw against Wales.
Timothy Weah’s top-class finish handed Gregg Berhalter’s side a 1-0 half-time lead in their group stage curtain-raiser, but a defensive-minded second-half set-up backfired on the 49-year-old manager.
Gareth Bale drew a penalty which he subsequently slotted home to steal two points from under the USMNT’s noses and make their life in Group B infinitely more unattainable.
After progressing into the World Cup knockouts in their last two appearances at the tournament, the US had high hopes heading into the 2022 edition.
But the enthusiasm has been doused early on, forcing the youngest squad in Qatar to play against the odds against England to keep their progression bid alive.
After the demolition of Iran, England could win their opening two matches at the World Cup for a fourth time, last doing so in 2018 when the matchday-two triumph yielded a 6-1 humbling of Panama.
But Southgate must take care of his side’s proneness to conceding beyond the half-hour mark, which has been the case in their last four matches, including Mehdi Taremi’s double on Monday.
When you see England scoring six times, Harry Kane must be the first name to spring to mind, yet the Tottenham Hotspur skipper wasn’t on the scoresheet against the Iranians.
The Three Lions faithful will hope the marquee striker can get off the mark on Friday.
Wales made the USMNT pay for abandoning their attacking-minded football in the second half, extending their catastrophic streak without a clean sheet to 18 World Cup matches against European sides.
That’s the least of Berhaler’s problems, with his side entering the clash against a rampant England side on the back of four winless games (D3, L1).
The US at least lived up to their entertainers’ tag, as none of their 34 all-time World Cup fixtures have ended goalless, accounting for an unprecedented milestone in the tournament’s history.
Though the five-game H2H stakes heavily favour England (W4, D1), the Three Lions would be silly to let that tuck them into a false sense of security.
While the solitary stalemate in that five-game run was a 1-1 draw in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, England found themselves on the receiving end of a 1-0 scoreline in their first-ever World Cup H2H in 1950.
That may seem like ancient history, yet it should still implant the idea of revenge into the heads of Southgate’s players.
England (4-2-3-1): Jordan Pickford; Kieran Trippier, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Declan Rice, Jude Bellingham; Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling; Harry Kane.
United States (4-3-3): Matt Turner; Sergino Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson; Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah; Timothy Weah, Giovanni Reyna, Christian Pulisic.
The US showed moments of brilliant football against Wales, especially in the first half, but they seemingly ran out of steam beyond half-time, which could be a problem against England.
Southgate’s men possess much more quality in their ranks than their fellow United Kingdom rivals and know how to punish every lapse of concentration.
Therefore, we expect the Three Lions to finish the job as far as progression into the knockout rounds is concerned here and now.
England 3-1 United States
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