Although the World Rankings struggle to separate these two teams, there’s no doubt which side looked the better on the evidence of Matchday 1. 19th-ranked Wales’ 1-1 draw in their opener against the USA, was the proverbial game of two halves. Second-best before half-time, the Dragons’ improvement seemed to coincide with the introduction of Kieffer Moore up front, after the break, and manager Rob Page may well decide to start the 6-foot-5 Bournemouth target man. The Expected Goals stats favoured Wales by 1.87 to 0.96.
Since 1998, only nine of the 73 teams to lose their opening World Cup group game qualified for the last 16, which sums up the predicament facing Iran, who sit 20th in the FIFA Rankings. Their two goals against England matched their highest tally in a World Cup Finals game, but even with five at the back, they conceded six times. They had to play the match amid a backdrop of uncertainty back home and declined to sing their national anthem to show solidarity with anti-government protesters back in Iran. Goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand is a major doubt after suffering a concussion. Team Melli didn’t start Bayer Leverkusen’s forward, Sardar Azmoun against England, with the Bayer Leverkusen’s forward rumoured to have missed out in part due to comments criticising the country’s regime. With Iran desperate for a win, he may get the start this time in the first meeting in 44 years between these two teams.