The 2022 FIFA World Cup is almost upon us, with the big kick-off scheduled for this weekend. Hosts Qatar will get us up and running on Sunday, but Monday is the first date circled in the diaries of both England and Wales fans. The Three Lions get their group stage campaign going with a clash with Iran, before facing USA and finally Wales.
Gareth Southgate’s men impressed at the last World Cup, reaching the semi-finals, and they will want to put together another strong run this time around, especially after a disappointing Nations League campaign.
Here we take a look at their possible routes to the final and who they could play on the way:
The group stage
Group B is the only group featuring four countries from the FIFA rankings top 20. Wales are familiar foes, of course. Beyond the fact the two nations are neighbours, they met in the Euro 2016 group stage. England won on that occasion, but Wales went on to top the group, reaching the semi-finals.
If England can win their first two games, they can all-but wrap up progression before they meet their noisy neighbours, though they also have some difficult memories facing the USA - who can forget Rob Green’s mistake at the 2010 World Cup? Winning the group will be key for the Three Lions. Group B winners go to the ‘easier’ side of the draw. Should Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands and Spain win their groups, they will all end up on the same side of the draw.
The other side would be made up of France, Belgium and Portugal, should the group stages follow the script.
The round of 16
If England win their group, they will face the runners-up of Group A, which contains Qatar, Ecuador, Netherlands and Senegal. Should England finish second, they will face the winner of Group A, which is likely to be the Netherlands, and that would also see them go onto the tougher side of the knockout stage.
Possible opponents - Winners of Group B winner vs Group A runner-up OR Group B runner-up vs Group A winner
Should England win their group and progress past the Round of 16, they could face world champions France in the quarter-finals, should Les Bleus win their group and defeat one of Mexico, Poland and Saudi Arabia, providing Argentina win their group.
If England finish second and win their round of 16 fixture, they would likely face Argentina, providing they win their group and defeat one of Australia, Denmark or Tunisia, providing France get their way in that group.
Possible opponents - Winners of Group D winner vs Group C runner-up OR Vs Winners of Group C winner vs Group D runner-up
So, working on all those assumptions, if England defeat France - or whoever it may be - in the quarter finals, they would likely meet either Belgium or Croatia - whoever wins that group and progresses - or Portugal in the semi-finals, but Uruguay could sneak in should they win the group instead of the Euro 2020 winners.
Possible oppoents - Group F winner, Group E runner-up, Group H winner, Group G runner-up OR Group E winner, Group F runner-up, Group G winner, Group H runner-up.
If England reach the final after winning their group, they will face the team that comes out of bracket one, which could include Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands or Spain in the final. Meanwhile, if they go the tricker route, by finishing runners-up and survive, they could face the likes of Belgium, France or Portugal in the final, facing the team that emerges from bracket two.