England start their World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday and Racing Post tipster James Milton expects a tough test for the Three Lions.
This article was originally published on 20 November 2022
What: England v Iran, World Cup
Where: Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar
When: 13:00, Monday 21st November
How to watch: BBC One
England scored 39 goals in 10 qualifying matches on their way to the World Cup but their disappointing 2022/23 Nations League campaign raised concerns about their attacking gameplan.
The Three Lions failed to score from open play in their first five matches against group rivals Hungary, Italy and Germany, having also found goals hard to come by in the early stages of their run to the final of Euro 2020.
England beat Croatia and the Czech Republic 1-0 in their group games at the Euros, either side of a goalless draw with Scotland, and they needed late goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane to see off the Germans in the last 16.
However, Iran narrowly failed to qualify from a tough group containing Spain, Portugal and Morocco at the 2018 World Cup and veteran coach Carlos Queiroz is hoping to upset the odds in his second spell in charge.
Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips were Southgate's first-choice central midfielders at Euro 2020 but injury has restricted Phillips to just one minute of Premier League action for Manchester City this season.
Throwing the former Leeds man straight into the starting 11 at a World Cup would seem to be something of a gamble, then, but the brilliant form of teenager Jude Bellingham is a major positive for England.
Bellingham has been outstanding for Borussia Dortmund this season, starring in their two Champions League group games against City and becoming the youngest captain in Bundesliga history shortly before joining up with the England squad.
The Birmingham City product has scored four goals in five Champions League appearances this term and, with Iran expected to defend in numbers and attempt to cut off the supply lines to Kane, Bellingham's bursts from midfield could be crucial.
He has not found the net in his first 17 international appearances but has demonstrated his coolness in front of goal at club level and is 10/1 to be the first goalscorer on Monday and to score at any time.
Despite being hot favourites to pick up three points on matchday one, England will be wary of a competitive Iran side that beat Uruguay 1-0 in a friendly in September shortly after Queiroz was reappointed as manager.
The Uruguayans look like dangerous outsiders for the World Cup and they named a strong line-up against Iran with Luis Suarez and Darwin Nunez in attack and Tottenham's Rodrigo Bentancur and Real Madrid's Federico Valverde in midfield.
A late goal from Porto striker Mehdi Taremi decided that contest in Iran's favour and he is 15/2 to score at any time against England while Bayer Leverkusen's Sardar Azmoun is to be the first goalscorer.
Azmoun, who scored in September's friendly draw with African champions Senegal, is still recovering from a calf injury and is a doubt for the clash with England but Taremi should be full of confidence going into the World Cup opener.
He racked up 20 Primeira Liga goals for Porto last season, scoring six times in 13 league appearances this term, and has also caught the eye in the 2022/23 Champions League, claiming five goals in his final three group matches against Leverkusen, Club Brugge and Atletico Madrid.
England had an outstanding defensive record at Euro 2020, where goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was beaten only twice in 690 minutes of tournament football.