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Assessing England's three group opponents - strengths and weaknesses

Form isn't on England's side heading into the 2022 World Cup but few expect the Three Lions to struggle in the group stage.

After an extremely disappointing group stage exit in 2014, England fired back to reach the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.

The Three Lions backed up that fine run by reaching the final at Euro 2020, losing to Italy on penalties at Wembley.

The build-up to the World Cup in Qatar hasn't gone smoothly for Gareth Southgate's men, failing to win in six games and suffering successive defeats to Hungary during that sequence. However, hopes are still high of enjoying a strong run at the winter showpiece.

Failure to get out of the group would be a major disaster, but the draw appears to have been kind to England, who are 1/3 to top Group B.

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Neighbours Wales, USA and Iran are the other three nations in Group B and England are widely expected to top the section.

The Three Lions kick off their World Cup campaign on 21st November against Iran at Khalifa International Stadium.

A tie with the United States follows at Al Bayt Stadium on 25th November before an all-British clash on 29th November against Wales to wrap up the group.

England looking to set tone against Iran

Iran, priced at 7/2 to qualify from the group, are making their sixth appearance at a World Cup, but their record at the competition suggests they will struggle to get out of the group.

They have never reached the knockout phase and have only two victories from their 15 outings, losing nine times and drawing four.

Team Melli made easy work of qualification for the Qatar showpiece.

Carlos Queiroz's side played 18 games during qualifying and tasted defeat on just three occasions, losing to Bahrain, Iraq and South Korea, while they scored 49 goals and conceded just four.

As the underdogs in Group B, Iran are expected to sit back, hold a tight defensive unit before looking to strike on the counter.

They certainly won't be as potent in the final third as they were against lesser opposition in qualifying.

Bayer Leverkusen frontman Sardar Azmoun was their top attacking asset in qualifying, netting 10 goals, while Porto's Medhi Taremi and Omonia forward Karim Ansarifard registered seven goals each.

History points to Iran experiencing difficulties in converting or even creating chances on the biggest stage, and England aren't likely to have too many concerns defensively.

However, they don't tend to suffer heavy defeats and have only conceded nine goals across their 15 previous outings at the World Cup.

Pulisic has a point to prove

England's second fixture comes against the USA, who are 1/1 to qualify from the group, and there will be some familiar faces amongst their ranks.

Christian Pulisic has struggled for gametime at Chelsea this season, starting just three Premier League games, but he's highly-regarded in his homeland and by national team boss Gregg Berhalter.

The 24-year-old boasts 21 goals in 52 appearances for the USA and he was the top-scorer for his nation during qualifying, registering five times.

Pulisic will undoubtedly want to prove his worth against England and could offer the USA the chance to frustrate Southgate’s team again at the World Cup.

England have failed to beat the USA in two previous encounters at the World Cup, drawing 1-1 in 2010 and losing 1-0 in 1950.

Also among Berhalter's options are several other Premier League players in the shape of Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner, Fulham defensive duo Tim Ream and Antonee Robinson, and Leeds midfielders Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson.

The USA have reached the last 16 in each of their last two World Cup appearances but struggled throughout qualifying, finishing third behind Canada and Mexico, to only narrowly avoid a tie in the inter-confederation play-offs via goal difference.

Bragging rights on the line for Wales

Wales, who can be backed at 11/10 to qualify for the last 16, are heading to the World Cup for the first time since 1958 after coming through the playoffs.

They have been in the ascendancy over recent times, reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016 and reaching the knockout rounds again in 2020, where they went out in the last 16.

Performing at the World Cup is a major challenge for such a small nation, however, and they will have their work cut out trying to get out of the group.

England's progression could already be sealed by the time they face Wales and that could favour Robert Page's men if Southgate opts to rotate. However, there's every chance it could be a winner-takes-all contest.

The Dragons are heavily reliant on former Real Madrid ace Gareth Bale and he was their joint top-scorer, along with Aaron Ramsey, during qualifying.

Bale also notched both goals when Wales beat Austria 2-1 in the play-off semi-final, while an own goal from Andriy Yarmolenko sealed a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the final.

Wales are undoubtedly stronger going forward than they are defensively with the likes of Bale, Daniel James and Brennan Johnson in attacking areas.

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