And just like that, we have arrived at the final round of group matches from the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. The action has been fast-paced, dramatic, unpredictable, and thoroughly enjoyable since the host nation brought the curtain up earlier this month. But there’s plenty more to come. We have seen nothing yet as the tension levels rise and the pressure builds. Only a few teams have secured their progress to the Round of 16, meaning we are in for a week of high drama. Football fans watching the action live on TV are in for a rollercoaster ride over the next few days.
We begin this week’s World Cup previews with England v Wales on Tuesday. These sides may be neighbours living on good terms back home, but in the Arab World, things are done differently. This is a must-win match for Wales, or they will be packing up their belongings and jetting back to Cardiff. The players will then join their club teams and prepare for the restart before Christmas. But no one inside the Welsh training camp will be ready to throw in the towel just yet.
England got off to the best possible start by hammering Iran 6-2, but they find themselves involved in a shootout with the Group B underdogs for the top spot. How did that happen? It’s a strange one, but there’s no getting away from the fact England needs to win. Gareth Southgate’s side knows failure to take maximum points on Tuesday may not send them home, but it could kill off their hopes of progressing as group winners. But which side will be celebrating at the final whistle, England or Wales? Read on for our big match preview and expert predictions.
Three Lions are on the hunt
England enters game three with three points on the board after matches against Iran and the USA. They made the perfect start when putting six goals past an Iranian side that lost its goalkeeper early in the play and struggled to adjust. Despite losing two goals, the destination of the points was never in doubt, and England’s performance suggested they may just have a shot at going all the way and winning this competition. There was no shortage of fans with high hopes, that’s for sure. But it didn’t last long, as England dropped points the next time.
The Iranians may be better than we thought as they bagged an impressive win on matchday two over Wales. That raised the question, was England really that great in their opening fixture, or was it a terrible day at the office for Iran? That remains to be seen, but we’ll get our answer on Tuesday as the group wraps up. Iran plays the USA, knowing victory sends them through to the Round of 16, where they’ll be involved in knockout football. Defeat puts them out, while a draw keeps things interesting. England knows if they win against Wales, they will finish in pole position, regardless of what happens elsewhere.
Will England get the result they want against Wales? Fans aren’t nearly as confident as they were prior to a goalless draw with the USA on matchday two. The Three Lions started that game against the Stars and Stripes as hot favourites, expected to run over the top of an opponent still finding its feet in this sport. England may have been guilty of over-confidence or taking their opponents lightly, as they were dreadful in that goalless finish. They had chances to nick a winner, but if England had won that game, it would have been terribly unfair on the USA, who battled hard.
Final roll of the dice for Wales
Wales is in the kind of predicament most of their fans would have expected at this stage. They are fighting for their survival and know only a win over England will send them through. They know it’s all-or-nothing on Tuesday, and having to beat a team of that calibre is never ideal. It would have suited the Welsh more if England had run away with the pool, beating Iran and edging out the USA. That would’ve left the second place up for grabs, with Wales up against the USA and Iran for the silver medal position. But things haven’t gone according to plan for the Dragons in Qatar.
They began with a 1-1 draw against Team America in their opening match but needed a late penalty from the experienced Gareth Bale to salvage a share of the spoils. The USA took the lead in that match in 36 minutes thanks to a smart goal from Weah, and it looked like that would be enough to see them home, but there was late drama. Far too many of the Wales team failed to perform that day, but they always had their secret weapon in reserve. Bale – like Ronaldo, Messi, and Kane – is a player that can make the difference. He can turn the game in the blink of an eye, and the Welsh support was delighted when he rescued a point from match one.
It looks like the footballing gods were smiling at Wales as they prepared to play Iran in their second match. The same Iran that leaked six goals against England in the game before and was expected to lose all three group outings in a similar fashion. But they had a trick up their sleeve and a surprise in store for the Welsh. Iran wasn’t nearly as bad as they looked against England. They are decent and showed it when beating Wales 2-0. That was a huge shock and left the beaten team’s chances of finishing in the top two hanging by a thread. Wales could be going home on Wednesday unless they show us something big against England.
England v Wales prediction
If England plays the way they did against Iran – who beat Wales – they should win and finish on top of Group B. If they play the way they did against the USA – who Wales also drew with – they could be knocked off the top spot. Wales knows what’s required. They must be better than we’ve seen from them already in Qatar.
World Cup odds
The pre-match betting odds available at 22bet has England at 1.4 with the draw 4.72 and a victory for Wales trading at 7.8.
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