With the first round of Group B fixtures out of the way, we can start looking forward to the Friday night games as Wales face Iran at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium. Both sides dropped points in the first game of the group stage, meaning this fixture is crucial in both of their pursuits for knock-out football.
Iran couldn’t have imaged a worse start to their World Cup. Carlos Queiroz’s side were outclassed in all aspects of the pitch by a very dominant England side. Iran conceded six goals against the Euro 2020 finalists but will take some pride in pulling two back late in the game.
Their Wednesday night opponents will be feeling far more optimistic after battling for a point against USA. Wales were bad midweek, I thought they struggled to create many real chances and seemed lost of all ideas rather than just hoofing the ball up front. However, they did manage to snatch a point which could be crucial in securing their place in the last-16.
WHEN AND WHERE:
Stadium: Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Qatar
Date: Friday 25th November
Time: 10am BST
A shock injury against England should see Iranian shot-stopper Alireza Beiranvand ruled out of Friday encounter. Beiranvand suffered a broken nose and a concussion after colliding with Majid Hosseini early in the first-half. Hossein Hosseini replaced him for the remainder of the game, and if Beiranvand is still a concern this weekend, it’s likely he will be in-between the sticks again.
In all of their World Cup Qualifiers, Iran played with different four-at-the-back systems, only switching to a five-man backline to deal with the attacking threat of England. With their backs now against the wall, and the chance of escaping the group slipping away, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Queiroz switch back to four-at-the-back, to give his team more options going forward.
Robert Page is fortunate that he has a fully fit Welsh side to call upon on Friday morning. He needs to hope that his team can pick up their performance from their draw against the USA after a handful of players all flattered to deceive. The biggest concern for me has to be the form of Gareth Bale, who other than the penalty seemed to be non-existent on Monday night. With so long to rest up, many thought Bale would star in Qatar, but so far he’s left a lot to be desired. More is needed from the ex-Real Madrid man if Wales are to get out of Group B.
Let’s be clear here, from what we’ve seen in Matchday 1, this is a clash of the two worst teams in Group B. That doesn’t necessarily mean neither will get through to the final-16, but currently it seems like England and the USA will be the ones topping the group.
Looking back at both of their first games in Qatar, it’s hard to see where this game will be won and lost – but one aspect did stand out. Against England, Iran really struggled to defend set pieces, especially corners. England’s defenders and midfielders were dominant in the air against their Middle East opponents. England’s first goal came from Jude Bellingham’s header, shortly after Harry Maguire’s thundering effort collided with the crossbar. Wales looked just as threatening in the air in their game against the USA. Players like Keiffer Moore, Chris Mepham and Ben Davies are all ariel threats and with someone like Gareth Bale hitting balls into the box, it won’t be long before something sticks.
Without a point to their name, Iran will have to take the game to Wales – knowing if they leave without a point their World Cup journey will come to an end. Queiroz’s side is capable of hurting teams, as we saw against England. It might have been later in the game, but we finally saw some attacking flair in the build-up to Iran’s first goal. If Iran do look to get forward and create chances, it’s going to leave them vulnerable at the back and the pace of Wales’ attack could easily exploit this. Harry Wilson, Gareth Bale, Dan James and Brennan Johnson all have the ability to run at defences and cause problems, doing this on the counter could easily create two-on-one situations that Wales can capitalise on.
PREMIER LEAGUE PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
Wales: Ethan Ampadu
Is the breaking the rules? I don’t know, but I’m going with it anyway. Ethan Ampadu is currently on-loan at Spezia from Premier League side Chelsea, in what is his fourth loan move away from Stamford Bridge. Ampadu’s versatility makes him a key player for Page’s side, able to play in midfield, like he did against USA or slot into the backline.
Ampadu was phenomenal defensively for Wales in midweek. Time and time again he was caught breaking up passes and winning back possession, stopping USA from advancing forward, but it was his rate of passing which really caught the eye. Ampadu would often drop deep and pick up the ball near his own box. Once in possession, Ampadu would quickly find a forward pass and execute it perfectly. Whether he was breaking the lines to find the feet of an attacker, or lofting the ball wide to spread the play, Ampadu was excellent at getting his team onto the front foot.
It’s hard to believe it, but Ampadu is still only 22-years-old. He hasn’t managed to reach the hights first expected when he joined Chelsea from Exeter City, but is more than capable of stepping up to the next level. Playing for Spezia in a Serie A relegation battle, it’s hard for the Welshman to get much recognition, but he’s definitely caught the eye in his opening fixture – more is to come from the Chelsea loanee.
Iran: Mehdi Taremi
Ok, now this is breaking the rules, but what do you expect? There isn’t a single Iranian National player currently playing in the Premier League. The Forest fan in me really wanted to pick Karim Ansarifard, since he didn’t play a minute against England however it did seem a bit farfetched – so I’ve gone for Mehdi Taremi instead.
Taremi has been excellent for FC Porto this season, contributing to seven goals in just five Champions League games, and a further 11 goals in Liga Portugal. Taremi was a key player for Iran in qualifying, scoring eight goals in 13 games, form which he looks to have carried with him in Qatar.
In what was a dull afternoon for Queiroz’s side, Taremi was still able to stand out. The 30-year-old was excellent for his national side and was the only Iranian player who looked capable of laying a finger on the England goal – which is exactly what he did. Taremi finally got Iran on the scoresheet in the 65th minute with an excellent finish past Jordan Pickford, before adding a second from the penalty spot late into added time.
Iran looked bad against a very good England side. A game against Wales presents an excellent opportunity to put pressure on the other teams in the group, but if they are to do anything then they need Mehdi Taremi to be at his very best, which he often is.
Wales: Hennessey, Davies, Rondon, Mepham, Williams, Ampadu, Ramsey, Roberts, Wilson, Moore, Bale
Iran: Hosseini, Jalali, Hosseini, Kanaani, Moharrami, Safi, Gholizadeh, Nourollahi, Jahanbakhsh, Taremi, Ansarifard