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England vs Iran: Alan Smith previews 2022 World Cup Group B opener

England set to face Iran, USA and Wales in World Cup Group B in Qatar; Gareth Southgate's side aiming to build on semi-final run at Russia 2018 and runners-up finish at Euro 2020

Alan Smith

England kick off their 2022 World Cup campaign against Iran on Monday and Alan Smith looks ahead to that opening Group B clash at the Khalifa International Stadium.

Gareth Southgate's side are expected to progress from a group that also contains Wales and USA, however, they will be looking to get off to a winning start against the supposed minnows of the section in Doha.

And here the former England striker and Sky Sports pundit looks ahead to that clash, giving his views on whether the Three Lions should go with a three, or four-man back line against Carlos Queiroz's team, who should start the game and how they will fare in both the opening Group B contest and the tournament as a whole.

It is now understood that Harry Maguire will start England's World Cup opener in a back four, with Southgate set to play 4-3-3.

How will England get on at the World Cup?

The mood might be down going into the World Cup. Obviously, after the Nations League matches there was a little bit of pessimism, but if you get a couple of good results, that'll all be forgotten. The World Cup is what counts. They should get out of the group.

We might not have been as adventurous or free-flowing as some teams, but we were built from that solid base, and that definitely needs to happen again. That's the big question mark - what kind of defence we pick and how effective will it be?
Alan Smith, former England striker and Sky Sports pundit

The route from then on means they should be facing some big teams. There's the possibility of facing Senegal in the next round, which I think you'd take. Tournament football's all about momentum and building confidence. In the Euros we were keeping clean sheets and we had a solid base.

We might not have been as adventurous or free-flowing as some teams, but we were built from that solid base, and that definitely needs to happen again. That's the big question mark - what kind of defence we pick and how effective will it be?

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Will Southgate go with three or four at the back?

Gareth Southgate stands on the touchline in Milan

I think he'll go with four. I think he'll want to put Stones and Maguire together again - they obviously know each other's games. Maguire, as we all know, hasn't been playing for Manchester United so hopefully he can pick up the pace. But experience counts for a lot - he's been to a World Cup and the Euros.

The only other way is maybe playing Ben White on the right of the three if Kyle Walker's not there. But Ben's inexperienced and that would be a huge call. I think he'll go Trippier right-back, Shaw left-back and Stones and Maguire in the middle. If Walker becomes available, things could change.

How will England line up?

Alan Smith's predicted England XI

Pickford's the goalkeeper. I think it might be a 4-2-1-3 type of situation, with a No 10. It looks like Rice and Bellingham as Phillips is still lacking in match fitness. You wouldn't want to be leaving Bellingham out - he's a superstar in the making and I think he could be one of the big successes of the World Cup.

It would be good if Bellingham and Rice could build up the type of relationship that Phillips and Rice had. It's a slightly different dynamic, but that looks good and hopefully will give the defence some protection. Just ahead of them would be Mason Mount. He hasn't been hitting the heights at Chelsea, but Southgate loves him. He's so versatile and he's such a good player that I'd put him in the starting XI.

Then obviously Kane's through the middle, but there's a question over whether Sterling starts. He's another one that Southgate likes and trusts. He's done well for him and did well at the Euros, chipping in with some assists and goals. Against Iran, I think Southgate may err on the side of caution and play his more experienced players, and maybe that will get Sterling a place on the left.

Then on the right it's Saka or Foden. They're slightly different players. I saw Saka at Wolves and he does look tired, so maybe it'll be Foden for the opening game, but those two may share those duties on the right-hand side. Foden could even play on the left.

How highly do you rate Mount?

Mason Mount and Declan Rice

I think he's an amazing player and I don't get that doubt about him. He's brilliant on and off the ball. He never switches off, he's so quick to close down and he'll nick possession quite often. He's really sharp-minded - he's an intelligent footballer. I think he's top-class.

How will England get on against Iran?

Carlos Queiroz
Image: Alan Smith expects a tough first encounter for England against Carlos Queiroz's Iran

Opening games in World Cups are notoriously difficult. Nobody wants to make a mistake and certainly nobody wants to lose. Everybody's expecting England to win and win fairly easily, but it might not turn out that way. It might turn out to be England trying to break down the massed ranks of the Iran defence. You could see a 1-0 - I've seen plenty of those over the years.

I remember England playing Paraguay in Germany in 2006 and it was a real struggle. Maybe you get a goal in the 70th minute or something and you move on. I'd take a 1-0 now.

2022 World Cup groups

  • Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
  • Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales
  • Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
  • Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
  • Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
  • Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
  • Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
  • Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
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