Who: Wales vs Iran, Group B
Where: Ahmed bin Ali stadium
When: Friday, November 25 at 1:00 PM (10:00 GMT)
FIFA Ranking: Wales (19), Iran (20)
Leading up to the World Cup, Wales had poor form in the UEFA Nations League. But that came on the heels of their dramatic World Cup qualifying campaign, which saw them lose just one match in ten – and that was to Belgium, who are among the favorites to lift the trophy in Doha on December 18.
So what does that tell us? In form and injury-free, the Welsh veteran trio of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen can make it very difficult for opponents.
But that’s no small caveat. Allen continues to struggle at Swansea, having injured his hamstring less than a month ago. Meanwhile, Ramsey, who suffered a hamstring injury in September, and Bale, who also recently suffered a leg injury, have traded the rugged mountains and valleys of Wales for the warmer climes of Nice and Los Angeles – where they both struggle to get game time.
The Welsh reliance on its experienced stars was on display in the team’s opening game of the World Cup where a late Bates punishment made sure they got a point through a draw against the United States.
Iran, meanwhile, wants to make a round of 16 appearance at a World Cup for the first time. And this match is the key to that hope after Team Melli – as they are known – were beaten 6-2 by England in their opening World Cup game.
Like Wales, they will depend on an experienced hand – or rather foot. Since the 2020-2021 season, Mehdi Taremi is the top scorer in the Portuguese football league with 42 goals. The 30-year-old scored both goals by Iran against England has 18 months of experience playing in Qatar earlier this week.
Taremi will lead Iran’s front line, along with Alireza Jahanbakhsh of Feyenoord Rotterdam and Sardar Azmoun of Bayer Leverkusen. Azmoun was injured playing for Leverkusen in early October but is fit to play in Qatar.
In the two games since Iranian coach Carlos Queiroz has recovered, the team has played a 4-1-4-1 defensive formation with a floating player in front of the defenders, allowing the midfield to push further up the field. On offense they switched to 4-3-3.
This flexibility in formation and counter-attacking gives Team Melli a similar style of play to the Dragons – the Welsh side’s nom de guerre. Expect quick breaks down the wings of both teams. These are not teams interested in possession for its own sake. Don’t expect much tiki-taka in this game. Expect fast, box-to-box action.