England were handed the perfect World Cup draw on Friday night, despite Gareth Southgate insisting it is ‘trickier’ than it looks.
The Euro 2020 runners-up will meet Iran, the USA and one of Wales, Scotland and Ukraine in their group. They will kick off in Qatar on the first day of a World Cup for the first time since 1966, with their opening game against Iran on November 21, just eight days after the Premier League stops for six weeks for the first ever mid-season tournament.
England boss Southgate said: ‘This is one of those groups where you’re looking and thinking some of these games are potentially trickier than just the rankings.
‘That’s always a danger. There’s obviously some tricky games. USA and Iran are teams we’ve not played for a while and the third is an unknown, but throws up a possible British derby.
‘The other thing for us is that we play seven days after the season stops, so there’s not a lot of time in England to prepare.
‘We’ll be checking up on the injuries and fitness — that will be key. We know that you can’t do a lot for the first couple of days, as the players are still recovering.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup draw was made on Friday in Doha ahead of this winter’s tournament
England have discovered their fate for the group stages of the 2022 Qatar World Cup
‘The first objective is to get out the group regardless of the opposition and go from there. I think when you’re seeded, you get the advantage of missing out on those top six or seven teams. For most of the first seeds, they would be pleased with the first group.
‘The US is an interesting one, I have met Gregg Berhalter many times and had some long chats. They have some very good players and we know what they are capable of as a nation.’
That negative may be offset by the greater recovery time England will have later in the tournament and the fact FIFA are likely to approve larger squads of up to 26 players.
England will fly to Qatar the day after the top flight pauses on November 13, with Southgate hoping for a smoother journey than he endured en route to the draw on Friday, when he was delayed for eight hours before taking off at Heathrow.
Following their first competitive meeting with Iran, England play the USA on November 25. They will not know the identity of their final Group B opponents until June. Wales have already made it to the play-off final, where they will meet the winners of Scotland’s semi-final against Ukraine.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will face United States, Iran and either Scotland, Wales or Ukraine in the group stages this winter
England have recaptured fans’ hearts in recent years and have moved into second favourites to win the World Cup this year following today’s draw
England captain Harry Kane tweeted moments after England’s opponents were revealed
Southgate said: ‘It is going to be a highly emotional game, whoever it is. Our thoughts are with Ukraine and we have to see whether they are even able to play or not. If it’s one of the British teams, we’ve been through that in tournaments recently. They become unique games. Form is totally out of the window.’
Meanwhile, a security chief for the World Cup said that protests by fans in favour of LGBT rights would be an ‘insult to the society’ of Qatar — and that rainbow flags could be confiscated from fans.
Major General Abdulaziz Abdullah Al Ansari said: ‘If (a fan) raised the rainbow flag and I took it from him, it’s not because I really want to take it to really insult him, but to protect him. Because somebody else around him might attack him.’
WORLD CUP WINNER BETTING ODDS
Before the draw:
Brazil – 11/2
France – 7/1
ENGLAND – 15/2
Spain – 8/1
Germany – 19/2
Argentina – 12/1
Belgium – 12/1
Portugal – 16/1
After the draw:
Brazil – 11/2
ENGLAND – 6/1
France – 7/1
Spain – 9/1
Argentina – 10/1
Germany – 12/1
Belgium – 12/1
Portugal – 14/1
He added: ‘You want to demonstrate your view about the (LGBT) situation, demonstrate it in a society where it will be accepted.
‘Watch the game. That’s good. But don’t come in and insult the whole society because of this.’
Gareth Southgate’s side will be looking to end 56 years of hurt when they head to the Gulf state this winter.
The Three Lions moved into second favourites with bookmakers behind Brazil after the draw and will play in the group stages between November 21 and December 2 and will play their first match – against Iran – on the opening day of the tournament at 1pm.
After being drawn in Group B they will face either hosts Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal or Holland (Group A) in the last 16.
England are on the same side of the draw as France and so could face the world champions in the quarter-finals should they win their respective groups.
They could then come up against Belgium or Portugal in the semi-finals followed by Spain, Germany or Brazil in the final.
The final will take place at the Lusail Stadium just a week before Christmas on Sunday, December 18.
Upon discovering the outcome of the draw, England captain and striker Harry Kane tweeted: ‘Always exciting to see who we get in the group! Playing on the opening day will be incredible as well.’
One of his predecessors as Three Lions skipper, Alan Shearer, said on BBC Sport: ‘Gareth will look at that and think it could have been a lot more difficult.
‘He will be happy with that and I’m sure his players will be too.’
England, who have recaptured fans’ hearts in recent years, have fallen short on the global stage ever since that famous triumph over West Germany in 1966 but optimism is building.
They are on an upward trajectory under Southgate after reaching the World Cup semi-finals four years ago.
They went one better last summer as they reached the European Championships final on home soil, only to be beaten by Italy on penalties.
Southgate vowed his side can finally put the nation out of their misery and claim the ultimate prize in international football this year.
The United States have some dangerous players in Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic
England could find themselves facing Scotland again at a tournament at last summer’s Euros
Gareth Southgate’s side will look to end 56 years of hurt after last winning World Cup in 1966
‘We’ve had consistent performances over a four-year period and we are one of the teams who could win this tournament,’ he said on Thursday.
‘If we can get to a final (like Euro 2020), we can win. That’s clear. To do that is incredibly difficult and we’ll have to be as close to perfect as can be. That’s the challenge for us.
‘If you want be in the big jobs, you’ve got to live with the expectation.
‘We’ve got to rationalise it in that we know there are some other very good players. But equally we have to accept there’s a belief and part of winning is being able to handle that.
‘We handled that well through the summer in a tournament where had a lot of matches at Wembley, and it was probably Scotland being the only one where we didn’t really handle that. Germany being what it was, the semi and so on.
‘When you’ve got evidence you can get results then the gap between expectation and what is possible is smaller and that makes the team less anxious.
The Three Lions exited the World Cup at the semi-final stage four years ago after Croatia loss
‘We know the team are further on their journey of learning from those big-match experiences than we were before so that helps you handle it in an even better way.’
Usually the identity of all 32 World Cup teams would be known by the time of the draw but three positions are still to be determined.
Two Intercontinental finals will be played in Qatar on June 13/14. Costa Rica play New Zealand in one for a place in Group E, while in the other Peru take on the winner of the Australia vs UAE play-off set for June 7, also in Doha, for a spot in Group D.
Those games were moved from March because of the disruptive effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, which put back qualifiers in some parts of the world.
Qatar’s human rights issues – including their treatment of workers – have come into the spotlight ahead of the tournament
One of the three European play-off routes was delayed because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Scotland had been due to play Ukraine at Hampden Park in March but this was deferred until a date in June in the hope that Ukraine will be able to play the fixture.
The winner of that match is going to play Wales in Cardiff a few days later to discover who’s going to the World Cup to join England in Group B.
Controversy has surrounded the 2022 Qatar World Cup since it was awarded the showpiece tournament in 2010.
Accusations concerning the treatment of migrant workers and a poor record of human rights have plagued the Gulf state. Male homosexuality is punishable by a prison sentence, same-sex marriages are not recognised by the government and women’s rights are much tighter than in some other parts of the world.
Southgate said it is a ‘great shame’ that sections of England supporters will not travel to Qatar for the World Cup this winter and stressed that no one is ‘complacent’ about the issues involved.
France won the 2018 World Cup in Russia and were drawn in Group D in Friday’s draw
Ahead of their friendlies over last month’s international break, Southgate hosted a meeting with the current England squad, discussing the ongoing challenges in Qatar and opening a dialogue on how England could show their opposition.
He questioned what an England boycott of the World Cup would achieve and admitted whatever action might be taken by his team will be met with criticism from some quarters.
Qatar 2022 chief executive Nasser Al Khater urged the England boss to ‘pick his words carefully’ after voicing concerns over the country’s suitability as World Cup hosts.
England captain Kane and his team-mate Jordan Henderson have also spoken about Qatar in recent weeks.
2022 QATAR WORLD CUP SCHEDULE
November 21-December 2: Group stage
December 3-6: Last 16
December 9-10: Quarter-finals
December 13-14: Semi-finals
December 18: Final
Sportsmail understands that the team will take some sort of stand ahead of the tournament.
‘Any issues that we are trying to resolve are trying to be resolved for ever,’ Kane said.
‘It is not just a quick fix. The fact there is a light shining on Qatar will help the situation and help us talk about it. But it is important those conversations carry on.
‘It is similar to taking the knee. It is not just something we did for a small amount of time. By carrying on, we keep showing our support, and that has been really important.
‘The same thing will happen in Qatar and after the tournament it will be important to keep talking about the issue and make sure anything we do to help or improve is for the rest of time, not just a few months.
‘For us now as players it’s important to talk among ourselves — not just this camp but camps going forward.
‘I feel like as a group we’ve never shied away from important issues.’
SPORTSMAIL’S GUIDE TO ENGLAND’S OPPONENTS
Who’s the manager?
Dragan Skocic – The Croatian coach was appointed in February 2020 as a replacement for former Belgium manager Marc Wilmots and has guided Iran through qualifying and to their sixth World Cup appearances.
Skocic has great experience of the Iranian football system, having worked with domestic clubs Malavana and Foolad. He has a sublime track record so far, winning 15 of the 17 games he has overseen as manager.
Who’s the star man?
Sardar Azmoun – Azmoun was once a target for Liverpool in the Brendan Rodgers era at Anfield after impressing in Russia. A move to Anfield never materialised though and instead he stayed and joined Zenit St Petersburg, scoring 62 goals in 104 games.
His big move came in January when German side Bayer Leverkusen opted to bring forward his arrival to the Bundesliga from this summer. The 27-year-old is yet to find the back of the net for his new club but his speed and pressing will be a problem for teams in Qatar.
How did they qualify?
After working their way through the deep qualifying pool in Asia, Iran finished top of the AFC’s third round – a round robin system featuring the seven group winners and five best runners-up.
Iran won their group with eight wins from 10 matches, beating Son Heung-min and South Korea to top spot.
Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5
Iran won their group with eight wins from 10 matches, beating South Korea to top spot
Who’s the manager?
Gregg Berhalter – Berhalter was handpicked to take over as US coach back in 2018 when he was plucked from MLS franchise Columbus Crew as part of a huge reset following a shambolic 2-1 defeat by Trinidad and Tobago that saw them miss out.
After an uninspiring first year in charge, Berhalter has managed to make the most of the promising crop of American talent springing up across Europe and get a tune out of them. A former defender, the 48-year-old represented the US at two World Cups – 2002 and 2006.
Who’s the star man?
Christian Pulisic – The Chelsea winger has been the poster boy for American football for a number of years and had to put up with team-mates that simply just weren’t as good as him.
But now he has some back-up in the form of Tyler Adams, Giovanni Reyna, Ricardo Pepi, Sergino Dest and Weston McKennie. With a hat-trick against Panama earlier this week, Pulisic proved he will be their biggest threat in Qatar.
How did they qualify?
It was nerve-shredding but the US sealed their place at Qatar this week by claiming the third and final automatic space in North America behind Canada and Mexico, despite losing to Costa Rica in their final match.
Their place was all but sealed before the game after beating Panama earlier in the week but still, a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica is not exactly how you want to celebrate a World Cup return.
Chance of winning the trophy – 1/5
Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic will be the United States’ key attacking player in Qatar
Wales v Scotland/Ukraine
England will have to wait to find out who will be the fourth team to round up Group B.
Wales are set to play the winners of Scotland against Ukraine in June to discover who will make the tournament in Qatar.
It means England face the prospect of a potential Home Nations tie against Wales or Scotland.
Wales have only ever reached the World Cup finals once, way back in 1958, when they progressed through a group phase to reach the quarter-finals, losing to eventual winners Brazil in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Gareth Bale scored twice as Wales beat Austria 2-1 in their semi-final play-off match.
Scotland meanwhile have not played at a World Cup since France in 1998 when they were knocked out in a group which involved Morocco, Norway and Brazil.
Steve Clarke’s side managed to frustrate England at the European Championships last summer, holding them to a goalless draw though they were knocked out at the group stage.
England also faced Ukraine at the European Championships a 4-0 win in the quarter-finals.
Ukraine’s delayed match with Scotland comes on the back of the invasion by Russia.
2022 WORLD CUP FIXTURES DATES AND TIMINGS
Monday, November 21
Senegal v Holland – Al Thumama Stadium, 10am
England v Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, 1pm
Qatar v Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, 4pm
USA v Wales/Scotland/Ukraine – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 7pm
Tuesday, November 22
Argentina v Saudi Arabia – Lusail Stadium, 10am
Denmark v Tunisia – Education City Stadium, 1pm
Mexico v Poland – Stadium 974, 4pm
France v Peru/UAE/Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, 7pm
Wednesday, November 23
Morocco v Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, 10am
Germany v Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, 1pm
Spain v Costa Rica/New Zealand – Al Thumama Stadium, 4pm
Belgium v Canada – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 7pm
Thursday, November 24
Switzerland v Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, 10am
Uruguay v South Korea – Education City Stadium, 1pm
Portugal v Ghana – Stadium 974, 4pm
Brazil v Serbia – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Friday, November 25
Wales/Scotland/Ukraine v Iran – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 10am
Qatar v Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, 1pm
Holland v Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, 4pm
England v USA – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Saturday, November 26
Tunisia v Peru/UAE/Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, 10am
Poland v Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, 1pm
France v Denmark – Stadium 974, 4pm
Argentina v Mexico – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Sunday, November 27
Japan v Costa Rica/New Zealand – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 10am
Belgium v Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, 1pm
Croatia v Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, 4pm
Spain v Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Monday, November 28
Cameroon v Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, 10am
South Korea v Ghana – Education City Stadium, 1pm
Brazil v Switzerland – Stadium 974, 4pm
Portugal v Uruguay – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Tuesday, November 29
Holland v Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, 3pm
Ecuador v Senegal – Khalifa International Stadium, 3pm
Iran v USA – Al Thumama Stadium, 7pm
Wales/Scotland/Ukraine v England – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 7pm
Wednesday, November 30
Peru/UAE/Australia v Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, 3pm
Tunisia v France – Education City Stadium, 3pm
Poland v Argentina – Stadium 974, 7pm
Saudi Arabia v Mexico – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Thursday, December 1
Croatia v Belgium – Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium, 3pm
Canada v Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, 3pm
Japan v Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, 7pm
Costa Rica/New Zealand v Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Friday, December 2
Ghana v Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, 3pm
South Korea v Portugal – Education City Stadium, 3pm
Cameroon v Brazil – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Serbia v Switzerland – Stadium 974, 7pm
Saturday, December 3
Match 49 – 1A v 2B – Khalifa International Stadium, 3pm
Match 50 – 1C v 2D – Al Rayyan Stadium, 7pm
Sunday, December 4
Match 52 – 1D v 2C – Al Thumama Stadium, 3pm
Match 51 – 1B v 2A – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Monday, December 5
Match 53 – 1E v 2F – Al Janoub Stadium, 3pm
Match 54 – 1G v 2H – Ras Abu Aboud Stadium, 7pm
Tuesday, December 6
Match 55 – 1F v 2E – Education City Stadium, 3pm
Match 56 – 1H v 2G – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Friday, December 9
Match 57 – Winner of Match 49 v Winner Match 50 – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Match 58 – Winner of Match 53 v Winner Match 54 – Education City Stadium, 3pm
Saturday, December 10
Match 59 – Winner Match 51 v Winner Match 52 – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Match 60 – Winner Match 55 v Winner Match 56 – Al Thumama Stadium, 3pm
Tuesday, December 13
Match 61 – Winner Match 57 v Winner Match 58 – Lusail Stadium, 7pm
Wednesday, December 14
Match 62 – Winner Match 59 v Winner Match 60 – Al Bayt Stadium, 7pm
Saturday, December 17
Match 63 – Khalifa International Stadium, 3pm
Sunday, December 18
Match 64 – Lusail Stadium, 3pm
All kick-off times where given are GMT.