World Cup Futures Look: GROUP B
The 2022 World Cup kicks off Sunday, Nov. 20 in Qatar with 32 teams in eight groups with daily matches round-robin group play through Dec. 2. Group B will be a group of great interest to a Western audience featuring England, USA, Wales, and Iran.
Written by Nelly’s Sportsline contributor Forrest Allen
ODDS TO QUALIFY FROM GROUP B (TOP 2 TEAMS ADVANCE)
If you’re willing to hold your nose and take two showers to make some money, Iran advancing to the group stage is the ultimate contrarian play. For you to profit, they’ll do it against teams and players most familiar to US fans. It begins with England and all the players we’ve grown to love at 7AM on Saturdays. Next is a Welsh team whose highest profile player starred in the MLS final, and concludes against the US national team.
It won’t be a pretty start for our anti-heroes (there’s a Taylor Swift reference here I just can’t bring myself to make much to my daughter’s chagrin) as England, one of the favorites to win the tournament. They will likely have their way with Iran in what will likely be an easy trip through the group stage.
It is the next two games is where it gets interesting. My model gives Iran a 74% chance to win or draw against the US and Wales. Wales will be led by MLS-Final hero Gareth Bale. However, an MLS hero, an international hero does not make. Besides, this team selected exactly 0 players from Wrexham; perhaps a smart tactical decision, but a poor marketing one. Super Paul Mullin and Phil Parkinson’s “enthusiasm” would certainly attract some extra eyeballs, but I digress.
While there is certainly excitement around the United States team led by Captain America, Christian Pulisic, there are real questions about whether he can shoulder the load for one of the youngest, least experienced teams in the tournament. With all the hoopla surrounding Pulisic’s record-breaking transfer to Chelsea, the results have been disappointing to the point he’s been relegated to a part time player for a team currently outside the top 6. If Pulisic maintains the same form he’s had since his arrival in Chelsea, taking all 3 points from this match wouldn’t be a surprising result.
Now that we’ve covered everything not about the team in the headline, let’s actually turn our attention to the team in question; Iran. They got to Qatar by going 14-3-1 in the World Cup Qualifying round and finishing first in their group. These results were built on an exceptionally strong defense producing clean sheets in 80% of these games. Perhaps equally impressive was the 49 goals the team scored in those 18 matches. The offense is led by Sardar Azmoun who netted 10 of those goals in only 14 games. More familiar to fans of the Champions League will be Medhi Taremi who plays for perennial Champions League participant, Porto, and leads the team in both goals and assists.
The combination of a rock-solid defense and capable strikers have resulted in Iran being ranked as a top 20 team in the world rankings. Carlos Queiroz manages this team and is a known commodity for both his players and fans. He brings a wealth of experience coaching at the highest levels of international soccer including stints as the head man with Real Madrid, an assistant with legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, and Team Melli, the country's nickname for their team, in the previous two World Cups. In looking back at how Queiroz’s Iranian teams played, I’d expect the opposition to possess the ball the overwhelming majority of the time and in favor of staying very compact and prioritizing goal prevention. In the 2018 World Cup, Iran never possessed the ball more than 34% of the time and looked very comfortable doing so. This approach should facilitate quick strikes on the counterattack with Azmoun and Taremi.
Forrest Allen has a Masters of Science in Business Analytics from NYU specializing in the development of machine learning models for sports application.