How can England qualify for the World Cup knockout?

It was fun.

England were once a side that used to start major tournaments with a whimper. Consider the dismal draw with Sweden in 2002, the unconvincing triumph over Paraguay in 2006 and Rob Green’s blunder against the Americans. Steady improvement would then follow, gradually building expectations for an inevitable disappointing finish in the knockout phase.

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Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions do things a little differently, though.

Their 6-2 thrashing of Iran was their third straight win in the opening match of a major tournament. The comfortable triumph has left them on the verge of qualifying for the round of 16 with games against the USMNT and Wales to come.

Here’s how Southgate’s England can confirm their place in the 2022 World Cup knockout stages next week.

Expectations were tempered ahead of the opening match against Iran. Carlos Queiroz-coached sides are typically stubborn outfits that lack inspiration in attack. Their game plan was predictable, but they executed it well enough in the opening stages.

However, England played with the kind of swashbucklers fans have longed for. Their young lions roared as Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka scored the first two goals before Harry Kane expertly picked out Raheem Sterling to treble England’s advantage before half-time.

Iran were simply overwhelmed by a progressive and exuberant Three Lions, who continued to assert their authority after the break. Saka added a fourth before substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish scored either side of a conciliatory Mehdi Taremi stand.

The dull encounter many predicted beforehand never materialized as England produced a scintillating attacking display in a 6-2 triumph. It was the perfect start to their World Cup campaign, and there’s no doubt Skinner & Baddiel would have been added to a few more Spotify playlists.

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England are next in action on Friday 25 November against the USA. The Americans were held to a 1-1 draw by Wales in their Group B opener, but they showed enough in the first half to suggest they could cause problems for a vulnerable England defense on Matchday 2.

The Three Lions then round out the group against neighbors Wales on Tuesday 29 November. England beat the Welsh the last time they faced a major tournament in 2016, and the magic of the Red Dragon means this will be far from a walk in the park for Southgate’s side.

They want qualification completed by the time Matchday 3 rolls around.

England’s hopes of progressing to the round of 16 were further aided by the USA’s 1-1 draw with Wales on Matchday 1. The Three Lions are in a fantastic position at the top of Group B and their vastly superior goal difference means they may well only need a point from their remaining two matches to advance.

However, England are expected to win their final two group stage matches and finish top of the group. Should they finish the group with seven points, meaning they win one and draw one of their next two games, they will also finish top.

Victory against the USA on Matchday 2 will see them progress, and they will be almost guaranteed top spot if Wales fail to beat Iran.

Even if England finish with five points, they will likely top the group on goal difference if both Wales and the USA beat Iran. But should Iran win their next two and England draw both, Queiroz’s men will top Group B from nowhere with England finishing second.

Given their performance against Iran and their upcoming opponents, it would be a huge surprise if England don’t top the group. Only a disaster would see them exit the World Cup before the knockouts, with even a runner-up finish unlikely.

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