World Cup: Group B preview and best bets

By Nigel Seeley  (VSIN.com) 

November 17, 2022 05:46 PM
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The 2022 World Cup is finally here, and VSiN's soccer handicapper Nigel Seeley has picks, predictions and best bets for every group as part of the VSiN World Cup Guide.

Here is his Group B preview for England, the United States, Wales and Iran:

Odds to win the group

England -280

USA +500

Wales +500

Iran +1600

England

England heads into the World Cup as the No. 5-ranked country in the FIFA rankings. The Three Lions are among the favorites to “bring football home” at +800, but Gareth Southgate’s squad goes into this tournament in bad form with the team not winning in its last five games. Southgate has received much criticism from the English media and England fans regarding his tactical approach, and he will be out to prove them wrong and get his team back to winning games.

Despite that poor form, Southgate and his team have a good record in tournaments, reaching the final of Euro 2020 (losing on penalties to Italy). England surprised many by reaching the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup, losing to Croatia.

The English cause will be helped by the fact that this is a midseason World Cup as the long, hard EPL season can take its toll on the England stars. An added issue is that top English teams usually last longer in European soccer, which all adds up to key players arriving at major tournaments exhausted. We will see much fitter and fresher players, and that could be key.

There is no doubt that England has been given a fair deal with the draw featuring Iran, USA and Wales as opponents in Group B.

For me, the big negative is Southgate, who seems more content to not lose a match rather than go all out to win. I believe that is going to prove a major setback in the latter stages of the tournament. They should have too much for their opponents in this group. This is a group that I expect England to win comfortably, and I don’t see any way that the -305 on them topping Group B won’t cash.

Key players

Harry Kane

With 51 goals in 75 games, England captain Harry Kane is now just three goals from becoming the all-time England top scorer. The record is held by Wayne Rooney, and I expect Kane to do it here.

Kane is a prolific penalty scorer. With England receiving a favorable draw, he is a justified favorite to land the Golden Boot and finish as top tournament scorer. England expects!

Phil Foden

If Foden is given a starting role, then the Man City midfielder can be a star at these championships and would be a serious contender for player of the tournament. Is Southgate brave enough and bold enough? Will Southgate play it too safe or will he unleash Foden on this competition over more defensive players?

Foden has had his best start in an EPL season, helping Man City beat rivals Man United 6-3 with a hat trick alongside Erling Haaland. Foden has many competitors for the winger spot. But, if given the opportunity, he can emerge from this tournament as a superstar.

Prediction

It’s extremely difficult not to see England topping Group B, but the -305 looks about right to me. The Three Lions really should come through the group with a 100 percent winning record. I must offer a word of caution, though, in that they may have qualification wrapped up after two matches. In that scenario, I would expect Southgate to rest players for the final group fixture with Wales. England could conceivably still win the group and draw the final game against Wales.

United States

The U.S. heads to Qatar in a confident mood after a strong performance in its qualifying group. The Americans won seven, drew four and suffered only three defeats. Those results ensured qualification for the first time since 2014. They suffered heartbreak in 2018 missing a place in the finals, thanks to a loss to Trinidad & Tobago.

As a soccer nation, the U.S. is becoming stronger and stronger, and that improvement is no doubt helped by several players playing abroad in the EPL or the German Bundesliga. Greg Berhalter’s squad arrives expecting to qualify from this group and reach the last 16. But I am not so sure.

Key player

Christian Pulisic

Pulisic captains the U.S. team and has made himself the first name on the team sheet. He has racked up 21 goals in his 52 appearances and comes here as the star striker.

Sadly for Pulisic, his club experience has been a different one. The U.S. Golden Boot has struggled to get regular game time in his four seasons at Chelsea. In that time, he has played in only 82 games, scoring 20 goals. Is this inactivity and lack of game time going to be a hindrance to him hitting top form in Qatar? It is certainly not an ideal situation for him as preparation for a World Cup.

Prediction

The bookies have Team USA as the second favorite behind England to win Group B and currently minus money to qualify through to the knockout stages.

It looks like a straight shooter between USA and Wales to get that second spot. I do think the schedule is more in Wales’ favor, and that could lead to the U.S. missing out.

Wales

Wales are 19th in the official FIFA rankings. Rob Page and his squad arrive at this tournament after struggling in a difficult group in the Nations League. They suffered defeats to the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland.

Wales’ last victory came on June 5 when superstar Gareth Bale scored the winner against Ukraine, which qualified them for the World Cup. That historic winner brought Wales to only its second World Cup and its first appearance since 1958. A superb performance in Euro 2016, where it reached the semifinal, proved Wales has what it takes to shock on the biggest stage.

Team spirit is a massive part of its success and this a very “together squad.” On team spirit alone, Wales would make the final. Add the brilliance of Bale, and Wales will look to qualify from this group.

Key player

Gareth Bale

With 40 goals in 108 appearances, the Wales captain is and will always be the main man for Wales until he retires. Bale has not played regularly for a few seasons now, but he has just shown how inspirational he is after scoring a 127th-minute goal to lift the MLS Cup for LAFC. The man for the big occasion when it comes to Wales, he plays like a man inspired and lifts his teammates. If he is on top form, they can compete with anyone. In what may be his last appearance at a major international tournament, Bale will be more determined than ever to shine and carry his country through to the knockout stages. His Wales story may have one final twist to it.

Prediction

This will be a tight fight between the U.S. and Wales for second place behind England in Group B. I give the slight edge to Wales, because of the schedule. Wales looks to be helped by the fixtures because it could take on the Three Lions when they have already qualified. Aside from that potential advantage, the group opener with the U.S. will determine who should join England in the last 16.

Iran

Iran comes into this tournament as the 20th-ranked team in the FIFA rankings and the lowest-ranked country in Group B. Iran has already seen great controversy just by being allowed to compete in the tournament. That could well be all the news coverage this team will get as this looks like a short stay in Qatar for the Iranians.

Iran has done well to qualify for the last three World Cup tournaments, but it is yet to get past the group stage, and I expect a similar fate awaits.

Iran has been in six World Cup tournaments and have only ever won two games, one coming against the U.S. in 1998 and against Morocco in 2018. After this World Cup, Iran likely will still have only those two wins.

Key player

Mohammad Taremi

The Porto No. 9 is seen as a top striker in the Portuguese league and arrives in good form. This form has led to him being linked with a move in January to London Club Arsenal.

Taremi has good international form, too, scoring 28 goals in 60 games for Iran. He looks a good bet to be the top Iranian goal scorer, if they find the back of the net at all, that is. If he does, Arsenal’s price will surely go up to secure his services.

Prediction

I fully expect Iran will come last in this group, which won’t make you a lot of money at the minus odds, but it will cash! I also believe that Iran will finish with no points and will keep its unwanted record of never qualifying to the last 16 intact.

Best Bets

Iran to finish bottom -175

England and Wales to qualify +200

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