England v USA preview: experienced Three Lions to continue winning start against youthful American side

Southgate’s men will continue their strong start to the tournament, but a USA team with high-profile firepower will present a sterner challenge than their opener when the sides meet in Qatar tonight, kick-off at 7pm, writes Rachel Roberts.

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England made a dream start to their World Cup campaign, thrashing Iran 6-2 to take their place top of Group B. Such a ruthless result was the perfect way to build confidence amongst the squad and for fans, after a string of disappointing results raised questions going into the tournament. The Three Lions will now be looking to continue this form with a win against the USA at the Al Bayt stadium.

The nature of the result against Iran is an ominous sign of a team with an abundance of attacking presence. Threats can be found throughout Gareth Southgate’s squad and after the opener, confidence in the camp is bound to be high, particularly after five different players found the back of the net. For Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford, whose last appearances at a major tournament ended on a cruel note, grabbing an early goal at the World Cup can provide a clean slate, if it was at all needed.

Yet despite the score, the England boss was visibly frustrated after the game undoubtedly due to the defensive performance. To concede two goals to Iran, including a late penalty, does raise alarm bells as to their ability to hold back stronger opposition. After the final whistle, Southgate told BBC Sport he was “a bit fed up with the end of it, really… I’ve got to be happy, but we shouldn’t be conceding two goals at that stage of the game.”

In the wake of the successful performances at the 2018 World Cup and Euro 2020, England’s high expectations took a knock, after their form going into Qatar 2022 saw them without a win in their last six matches. Questions regarding Harry Maguire’s selection have dominated discussions, and though the margin of the opening win may somewhat rejuvenate lofty aspirations, it is defensive vulnerabilities that will be England’s downfall.

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These are weaknesses the USA will be targeting. Familiar Premier League names include the team’s top scorer, Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic, and Leeds duo Josh Sargent and Tyler Adams, the latter of which captains his country at his first World Cup, aged only 23. In fact, these players are amongst a talented squad, which, with an average age of 25 years and 175 days is the second youngest in the competition.

Against Wales they dominated the first half and took a 1-0 lead into half-time, thanks to a goal from Lille’s Timothy Weah, but their performance dropped off in the second half as they allowed Wales back into the game. A late Gareth Bale penalty cost the Stars and Stripes a valuable two points against opponents whom, realistically, they are fighting for the second qualification spot.

In this light, earning a point against England would be highly significant for their group standing. Especially with only a match against Iran remaining, a result here for the USA would pile significant pressure on to Wales – who earlier lost to Iran – when their turn to face England arrives, in the final round of group stage matches.

Injury list

The sight of Harry Kane clutching his ankle is one England fans would have been dreading. The 2018 World Cup’s Golden Boot winner came off against Iran after 75 minutes but after undergoing a scan his availability to play has been confirmed by his manager.

Harry Maguire was also substituted, complaining of illness and blurred vision but is also reported to be fit and has featured in training. James Maddison, meanwhile, continues to fully recover from the knee injury he sustained on the final day of Premier League action.

USA midfielder Yunus Musah – who represented England at youth levels – limped off against Wales, reportedly suffering a toe injury, while fellow midfielder Weston McKennie picked up a groin injury. Manager Gregg Berhalter also took off Sergino Dest with 15 minutes to go. The defender was initially a doubt to start against Wales and potentially may not feature tonight.

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Dangerman: Jude Bellingham

He saved his first goal in an England shirt for his World Cup debut – undoubtedly the perfect occasion. After sending the Three Lions on their goalscoring way, the young Borussia Dortmund star, 19, shone against Iran with free-flowing creativity and an attacking presence which encapsulates exactly how Southgate’s side needs to play.

With the disappointment of Nations League results, positive and confident performances that make the most of the talent available will be necessary for this an enjoyable winter of football, and Bellingham provides this in spades. Speculation may be swirling regarding his future at club level, where he has racked up nine goals and three assists so far for Dortmund this season, but on the international stage, he is continuing his fine form in Qatar. Against a USA side who appeared to tire as the clock ticked down against Wales, his ability to find the space needed to carve a path forward for England to attack will be lethal as he links with his fellow Lions up top.

Managers speak

England manager Gareth Southgate said: “Have we ever beaten the States in a major tournament? No. I didn’t think so. We have to make history. We need to be more motivated, but we have great respect for our opponents. We know their players from our league, so we have to be at our best… We won’t underestimate them.”

USA boss Gregg Berhalter said: “It was always going to be a difficult game. We’ve talked about it, England are a very good team, a very experienced squad in international competition with high quality. Now they’re getting into form, so we’re going to have to give it our best shot.”


Possible starting line-ups

USA: Turner; Dest, Zimmerman, Ream, Robinson; Acosta, Adams, Aaronson; Pulisic, Weah, Sargent

Prediction: England 3 USA 1

This affair won’t be as flashy for England as the Iran game, but the Three Lions should certainly be producing the result needed to secure their position at the top of the group. They will need to remain focused, however. Any defensive frailties will be pounced upon, and as the calibre of opposition increases the consequences for lapses in judgement will be far more costly.

Head to head, England have won eight out of their 11 meetings against the USA, but interestingly the Americans are unbeaten against them on the World Cup stage, playing out a 1-1 draw in 2010 and the legendary 1-0 victory in 1950. Over 70 years since that upset though, today’s pack of Lions should have the confidence of new-found form, experience and talent to get six points on the board, before the awaited home nations clash against Wales.

Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachellrobertts

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