The third round of group games at World Cup 2022 continues on Tuesday, as the USA - as well as England and the Netherlands - return to action.
Here is our preview of the four concluding matches in Groups A and B, with two particularly mouth-watering fixtures on the horizon.
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This is the morning game to watch if you are based in the USA. It is still possible for the Netherlands to be knocked out in the group phase, but that is highly unlikely. As such, this is in effect a straight shoot-out between Ecuador and Senegal for a place in the knockout phase.
The South American side have the edge, courtesy of their 1-1 draw with the Netherlands last time out. Ecuador were hugely impressive in that match and deserved more than a point on the balance of play. Senegal lost to the Dutch in their first game in Qatar, which means it is a win or bust for them here.
We are tipping Ecuador to come out on top, though. They have played really well up to now and their counter-attacking prowess could cause Senegal problems.
Qatar made a piece of unwanted World Cup history on Friday, as they became the first host nation to lose two group games. Although they won Asian Cup 2019 and reached the semi-finals of Gold Cup 2021, Felix Sanchez’s side have looked out of their depth at this level.
Relative to expectations, the Netherlands have not performed much better. Louis van Gaal’s side needed two late goals to beat Senegal on matchday one before they were outplayed by Ecuador in their last outing.
Still, many teams would happily trade their own position for that of the Dutch, who simply need to avoid defeat by Qatar (arguably the weakest side in the competition) to reach the last 16. This is a good chance for the Oranje to secure a confidence-boosting victory.
The formula is straightforward for the USA: only a win against Iran will do. After back-to-back draws with Wales and England, Gregg Berhalter’s side simply must emerge victorious in order to reach the round of 16, which begins on Saturday.
Unfortunately, though, we fancy Iran to pick up the point that would be enough to send them through from Group B, provided Wales do not beat England. Carlos Queiroz’s side were excellent in a 2-0 victory over Wales last time out, striking the right balance between defending stoutly and attacking the counter-attack when space opened up.
The USA may struggle to break down opponents that are well-drilled defensively. Expect the Americans to dominate the ball, but Iran will dig deep to keep them out.
International tournaments operate like time speeded up, something Gareth Southgate will know better than most. After England thrashed Iran 6-2, the manager was praised for his tactical acumen. Following a 0-0 draw with the USA, there have been renewed calls for him to vacate his position.
That is an overreaction, but there is no doubt that England were poor against the Stars and Stripes on Friday. There was no rhythm to their play and a lack of combinations in the final third made their attack predictable. If any team deserved to pick up all three points, it was the USA.
Still, England will fancy their chances of beating Wales, who have only played well in one out of the four halves of soccer they have contested in Qatar.
Dates: November 20 - December 18
How to Watch: Fox Sports, Telemundo, fuboTV
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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