After a well fought draw against France, we have a must win game against Iran. For the last two games we have to work on the assumption that France will beat both Iran and Senegal, and so to offer ourselves a glimmer of hope of finishing top (and theoretically giving ourselves an easier draw in the knockout round) we must win both also.
On paper, this should be an easy game for us, but on paper, Iceland was an easy opponent at Euro 2016 and well… I thought I erased that memory but no, it’s back again.
Having a quick look at the Iranian national team there are a few players I recognise: Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Dejagah (formerly of Fulham) and Azmoun (Rostov). These are players you may have heard of, but hardly superstars.
As you can see, we should win… should. The narrow formation suits us, hopefully allowing our wingers, in the 4-2-3-1 shape we favour, to occupy the full-backs creating space for our overlapping full-backs. As I don’t really have much else to say about the team, did you know that Iran has a rich cultural history, boasting one of the oldest civilisations on Earth dating back to around the 4th Century BC? Well, luckily Wikipedia did.
Now we have had a look at the opposition, worked out our approach to the game, and learnt something about our opposition, I guess there is nothing to do but sit back and drink some of this Russian white wine… this clear, strong Russian white wine.
After waking up, hungover with Mark Noble singing bubbles over the hotel balcony to a bunch of bemused Russians in central Moscow (probably making the front page of the sun), we better get to team selection.
There is some slight weariness in the ranks following the France game, so slight rotation has been required, bearing that in mind, here is the team to face Iran:
Mark Noble recovers from a two-day hangover to make the starting eleven, replacing a tired Dier. Wilshere (he was injured before the tournament, going to assume hangover also) and Barkley replace Lallana and Alli, with Rose also coming in for Shaw. Kane is on 90% condition, I will keep an eye on this with a decent replacement in Callum Wilson on the bench.
With all that said, let’s hopefully go and grab those three points.
Pre-game: noticing Iran are playing a 4-3-3… so that full-back overload might be off… let’s stick to it, see how it goes regardless.
A slow start, it is not until the sixteenth minute that we get our first action of the match. A throw in down the right from Clyne finds Barkley who passes to Noble, Noble to Wilshere who lets loose…. and tipped over by the Iranian keeper. The first shot of the game.
Straight after that highlight, in the eighteenth minute, Barkley finds Rashford, who feeds Chamberlain, his shot his blocked, falling to Kane, who’s shot is once again blocked.
The thirty-first minute quickly approaches, quick interchange sees Rashford letting fly – straight at the keeper.
Wilshere and Kane both have long distance efforts in the thirty-third and thirty-fourth minutes. Wilshere way over, Kane’s effort is tipped over. Still, the game is all England, no efforts so far from Iran, but can we make the pressure pay?
Just what we needed. The pressure pays off. Tenacious work down the left sees Rashford win the ball from the Iranian right-back, he then passes square to Barkley, who passes to Noble, Noble carries the ball forward and passes to Chamberlain who works some space before feeding the ball into Rashford‘s path for a tap-in. 1-0 England!
And just like that, it’s half-time. An okay half, we have dominated, but that is to be expected. Iran are defending solidly and deep, this has contributed to them not registering a shot yet. We can expect more from them in the second half, but as they chase the game, hopefully, more chances will present themselves for us.
As the fiftieth-minute approaches, Kane will be withdrawn. He has been ineffective so far today and needs to be rested ahead of the game against Senegal. Callum Wilson will enter the fray.
Danny Rose steps out of position allowing Iran a simple ball down the ring wing. The winger is closed down by Keane, who has to leave his man free in the middle, he (Azmoun) taps home with Iran’s first shot of the game…
Change after the goal: Alli is coming on for Wilshere who is not fully fit following his hangover.
Well, that was quick! Rashford once again wins the ball back, the ball finds its way to the fresh-legged Alli who crosses for Rashford, who made his way into the box to net his second of the game. 2-1 England!
We need now, to make sure we do not cede this. I will be looking to shore things up by changing from Control to Counter in around five minutes.
Before this can take place, we have a corner, which eventually leads to a headed chance by Rashford, which is not taken – to be fair to him, it was a very difficult chance and we do well to win another corner. From the subsequent corner, Barkley works a shot, which flys over the bar.
Another attack works its way down the left, the ball is crossed to Wilson who cannot meet it, the ball is recycled by Alli, who plays the ball to Rashford, but unfortunately, the shot is blocked.
Although we are on top, I am taking the time now to make two changes. Firstly, we are going to look to play slightly more conservatively and make ourselves less vulnerable to the break by playing on Counter, but keeping our tempo low, and our passing short, making sure that we retain possession in a safer manner. Secondly, we will be replacing the tired (and booked) Clyne with Walker (please don’t pull a Tottenham on me…).
Following a long throw, Iran work a shooting opportunity from the top of the box, Hart saves comfortably, but is this a warning sign that I have gone too defensive?
Further proof of this as our attack fizzles out, and Iran plays a long through ball, the shot at the end of the move is tipped over by Hart. This is why we went more cautious, to stop counters!
From the touchline I shout a calm concentrate, I’m not really sure how to shout calmly though…
It was all over. That was much closer than I expected it to be. We were incredibly dominant throughout, with Iran scoring from their first shot and not registering their second until after the eightieth minute. The increased pressure at the end was almost solely my fault for not trusting the players to hold out controlling the game, maybe that confidence was rattled by the Iran goal coming from nothing, but it could have cost us, and our approach to closing out games is something I will have to think about – do I go defensive, or go with the ethos of “it ain’t broke…”?
Anyway, three points in the bag, can’t complain too much. On top of that, we were able to rest some of our players in order to have them fresh for the Senegal game in four days time.
Speaking of Senegal…
Senegal managed to hold France to a draw leaving both teams on two points. This means that a draw will take us through to the knockout round, and a win will guarantee us top spot in the group, however, a loss likely eliminates us. A great situation to be in, albeit, somewhat risky. Before the Iran game, I would have been convinced of our success in this game, but I was not convinced by our performance out there today. I still think we are favourites, and will likely look to control the game but we cannot afford to be too blase as we almost found out today.
But for now, that doesn’t matter, we got the three points, and now, in my estimations, are favourites to top the group. Will we? I guess we will find out next time.