England vs Iran predictions: Competitive clash could be close
- England have won only three of their last eight opening World Cup games, once by more than a goal
- Iran drew 1-1 with Portugal and lost only 1-0 to Spain four years ago
- Recommended bet: Iran +1.25 Asian Handicap
England will take on Group B rivals Iran at Khalifa International Stadium on Monday with cooler-than-normal temperatures forecast for the afternoon kick-off.
That should help Gareth Southgate's men impose their own game on Team Melli, who sacked Dragan Skocic after he had overseen 15 wins in qualifying to take them to their third finals on the trot in record time.
Carlos Queiroz, who quit as Egypt boss after failing to guide them to Qatar, was then re-appointed to lead the Persian Leopards at a third straight World Cup.
England have been training at the hottest time of the Doha day in order to acclimatise to conditions, but Leicester playmaker James Maddison has hardly been seen on the pitches as his workload is managed after a recent injury.
Sardar Azmoun was expected to be Iran's key absentee, although reports now suggest the Bayer Leverkusen striker has won his fitness battle on the eve of the tournament.
Phil Foden is reportedly set to start for England as Southgate considers shelving the 3-4-3 system that he favoured in qualifying for this opening group game.
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling are virtually guaranteed to start in the forward line with Mason Mount likely to edge out Bukayo Saka for the attacking midfield role ahead of Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice.
Harry Maguire and John Stones appear set to form the central defensive axis with Kieran Tripper and Luke Shaw deployed as full-backs in front of Jordan Pickford in goal.
Iran boss Queiroz has apparently been boosted by Azmoun's recovery from a torn calf muscle he suffered while warming up for Leverkusen's Champions League match against Porto in early October.
If he can take his place as the spearhead of Iran's attack then dangerman Mehdi Taremi, who has proven expert at both winning and converting penalties in Portugal's Primeira Liga, will operate off the left-hand side.
Omonia Nicosia's Karim Ansarifard is another option to start in attack while veterans Vahid Amiri, Alireza Jahanbakhsh and Saman Ghoddos will vie for midfield berths.
Queiroz prefers a 4-1-4-1 formation that features just one midfield pivot, who is almost certain to be former Reading player Saeed Ezatolahi.
Morteza Pouraliganji and Majid Hosseini are the likely central defensive axis with Milad Mohammadi and Sadegh Moharrami probable starters at left and right-back respectively while Alireza Beiranvand adds to his 53-cap collecton between the posts.
Foden has scored eight goals and assisted three more in 20 appearances for Manchester City across all competitions this season.
The 22-year-old has also registered 14 shots on target across his 14 appearances in the Premier League — 11 of those being starts.
Queiroz took Iran to the 2014 and 2018 World Cup finals during an eight-year stint at the helm, the longest in the national team's history.
Goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand provided one of Iran's best moments at Russia 2018 when he saved a penalty kick from Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo while Team Melli conceded just two goals in arguably the most difficult group of the tournament.
Currently third on the Persian Leopards' list of all-time top scorers with 40 international goals, only the legendary Ali Daei has a better strike rate than Azmoun's 0.63 goals per game for Team Melli.
England have a tendency to be slow starters at World Cups, having failed to win five of their last eight opening games.
Those were all at summer tournaments when players were striving to find their form and competitive edges again, often around a month after their last serious club games.
This time there can be no such excuses as Southgate's starting XI are all likely to have featured in the Premier League no more than nine days prior to this fixture.
More or less the same can be said of Iran and their overseas-based players, although a handful of Persian Gulf Pro League stars will not have had any competitive action since the last week of October.
A lively game should be anticipated and one in which England will need to draw on all their quality to get the victory most assume to be almost guaranteed.
Iran lost 2-0 to Tunisia in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Wednesday and, although Queiroz attempted to accentuate the positives, it will not have done much for confidence.
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