England seek to lay down marker against Iran

England could not have done a better job of lowering expectations than by going six competitive games without a win heading into the World Cup but when they kick off against Iran on Monday a nation will again start dreaming.

Under Gareth Southgate's watch England have been agonisingly close to winning major silverware for the first time since 1966 — first with a semi-final run at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and then losing to Italy on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

There is a nagging sense that those near-misses might be as close as England come and that opportunity has passed them by.

But, despite a woeful run of results, they arrived in Qatar as one of the teams more likely to be crowned world champions.

For that to happen, a fast start will be essential and a Group B opener against Iran offers that opportunity, even if it would be dangerous to underestimate a team managed by Carlos Queiroz and 20th in FIFA's rankings.

In their six-game winless run in the Nations League, England lacked creativity and goals and were occasionally chaotic in defence — especially in a 4-0 home loss to Hungary.

A thrilling 3-3 draw with Germany in their final game before the World Cup renewed some optimism and Southgate's squad certainly looks equipped to control a group which will also pitch them against the United States and Wales.

"If England go into all three of these matches fully focused, playing to the best of their potential, they should win all three," former US goalkeeper Brad Friedel told as he looked ahead to the Group B games.

"Iran are a well-structured team, not easy to break down. And they also have some very good technical players – and the conditions, they're going to be right up Iran's street. "I think England will win but I think it'll be hard."

England fans, the majority of whom will be watching on sofas and in pubs back home, have rightly lauded Southgate but patience is beginning to run out. His tactics are often seen as over-cautious, especially against quality opposition. 

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