If the happiest days in recent England soccer history were the occasion of the Three Lions’ qualification for the World Cup semifinals in 2018 and then Euro 2021 final, the third might have been April 1 this year, when the draw for Qatar 2022 was conducted.
London’s Telegraph newspaper called it a “dream” draw. The Daily Mail used the same descriptor. The Daily Mirror called it “lucky”.
England was assigned to play Iran, the United States and Wales in Group B.
“In England, we talk about the group and see America and we’re like, ‘Yeah, we’ll beat them.’ I’ve got to be honest with the situation.” CBS Sports Champions League analyst Micah Richards, who earned 13 England caps, told The Sporting News recently. “We know they have great players … but, really, I think the English have got too many good players for the USA.
“They [USA] have come a long way, but I still think England are way ahead.”
We shall find out at 2 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving whether it’s a Black Friday on one side of the Atlantic or the other.
No. 5-ranked England the heavy favorites vs. USA
England’s results in major tournaments under coach Gareth Southgate present plenty of support to Richards’s position. That includes Monday’s 6-2 humiliation of Iran, in which England opened with the first-ever international goal from teenage star Jude Bellingham and two goals from winger Bukayo Saka. The Three Lions are 9W-3L-3D in major tournaments dating back to the 2018 World Cup.
If you’re an American soccer fan, not just a fan of American soccer, you know the names England will be throwing at the USMNT. They have been piped into your living room or your laptop or iPad for years, and you’d probably tire if we listed all the extraordinary players dotting the Three Lions roster or lineup.
We can simply say Harry Kane brings all the threat to the striker position that Gareth Bale does for Wales, only Kane routinely has done it for club and country since he turned 21 nearly a decade ago. Kane has scored 10 combined goals for England at the World Cup and Euros. Defending him will be a massive challenge for the combination of U.S. central defenders Walker Zimmerman and Tim Ream, especially after Zimmerman fouled up against Bale and delivered the costly foul that presented Bale the game-tying penalty kick.
With a single point after one game, the U.S. is tied for second in Group B. They might be able to survive a loss, depending on how Wales performs against Iran. They certainly cannot afford for it to be one-sided due to the goal difference tiebreaker that could come into play.
U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter has been criticized by some of the program’s perpetually uneasy fans for attempting to change the manner in which the USMNT operates. They have been working at trying to advance the ball out of the back and maintain more possession rather than assuming more established teams from Europe and South America will dominate the ball and the only way to beat them is to defend and pursue the rare counterattacking opportunity.
That’s how Iran planned to succeed in the first World Cup game Monday.
Against Wales, the Americans were able to possess the ball consistently until they took the lead late in the first half. Then a Wales team far less gifted than England was able to gain an edge and create two excellent scoring opportunities they could not convert, one because of a save by U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner, and the other a misfired header.
England vs USA history favors the Americans
England’s history against the USMNT in World Cup competition is not long, but it’s not good. One of the most overwhelming upsets in the history of the tournament occurred when the Americans beat heavily favored England 1-0 at Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on a goal scored by Joe Gaetjens. And it was an upset, because the U.S. were beaten in their other two group games by a combined 8-3 scoreline and eliminated after the group stage.
The Americans did not return to the World Cup for another 40 years.
But 60 years after that upset, ahead of the 2010 World Cup, the Americans again were drawn with England, prompting The Sun newspaper to align the four teams in the group in this order, with the first letter of each country’s name or nickname enlarged to emphasize: “England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks”. That spells “EASY”. Except the Yanks tied England on a goal from Clint Dempsey the keeper should have saved, then ended up winning the group on Landon Donovan’s extra-time goal against Algeria.
After England’s 2010 World Cup draw, people thought they would walk it. However, England were dire and just scraped 2nd place, after drawing 0-0 with Algeria, 1-1 with USA and beating Slovenia 1-0. The irony. pic.twitter.com/D9irfqmp1z
— Must Win Game (@MustWinGame_) April 29, 2020
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Europe conducting a Nations League competition that limits the opportunities for other nations to schedule friendlies against their teams, this U.S. squad has had few chances to test itself against the world’s best.
Its players have thrived, though, when placed on the biggest stages. Young star Christian Pulisic excelled in Chelsea’s 2021 Champions League triumph, scoring the only goal in one leg of the semifinals against Real Madrid and setting up the score that clinched advancement. U.S. captain Tyler Adams scored the winning goal to advance RB Leipzig to the semifinals of the 2020 Champions League.
And with the USMNT, those two players and more have gone 3W-0L-1D in competitive games against regional rival Mexico over the past 18 months, including in tournament finals that delivered the Nations League and Gold Cup trophies to the USA.
This American bunch hasn’t always been properly motivated to play bunkered teams in miserable conditions, like the icy cold of Canada during World Cup qualifying or the mud of El Salvador in June’s CONCACAF Nations League competition. The audience in Qatar will be vast and engaged and the conditions pristine.
There will be no such excuse available now.