The football World Cup is now underway in earnest. Three matches are on the line and Yle sends two highly interesting dusters. England get to test their form against a difficult Iran, and then Senegal get an answer to how good they are without star Sadio Mané.
At 15.00 England-Iran, TV2 and Yle Arena
Group B, Khalifa International Stadium, Doha
Commentator: Mattias Simonsen
England’s situation: Unusually uncertain
EC silver last year – is it now that “football is coming home”?
There is undeniably an incredible amount of excellence in the England squad, and captain Gareth Southgate has had a knack for getting the most out of his men. But then there is still a huge but.
The upload, or rather the calendar year, has been lousy for “Three Lions”. The Nations League resulted in three crosses and three defeats (two of which were against Hungary), England’s last win came against the Ivory Coast in a practice match in March (!).
Now it’s serious on a completely different level – can the English respond to the nation’s expectations?
Iran’s situation: All chances to advance to the round of 16
Iran was a terribly difficult opponent in the 2018 World Cup group stage. Spain had to settle for a sweaty 1-0 victory. Portugal drew 1–1 in the group stage final where Iran with a win had clinched their place in the playoffs.
It was certainly four years ago, but there are many indications that the Iranians will be at least as difficult this year as well.
They certainly lost the gene rope against Tunisia, but before that beat both Nicaragua and Uruguay while cruising against Senegal. All within the space of two months.
Portuguese coach Carlos Quieroz is back, the squad is also practically intact. Iran is expected to lie low and wait for chances to counter. A point against the group’s huge pre-favourite could be worth its weight in gold.
The topic of conversation: Can Iranians put political views aside?
There has been a huge amount of talk about the problems in Qatar during the World Cup build-up. But the host nation are not the only ones in the tournament with other things going on at home than the sporting side.
Surely no one has missed the widespread protests in Iran? The case of Mahsa Amini has revived the resistance movement and it is a divided nation that accompanies its football heroes in Doha.
The national team is, as it often is, a reflection of society. On the one hand, we have Alireza Jahanbakhsh (former goal king in the Eredivisie), who paid tribute to killed generals on his social media, and on the other hand, Mehdi Torabi, who openly took the regime’s side during the Mahsa Amini protests and said he plays for the ayatollah.
But despite the regime’s wishes, Roman Eremenko’s former clubmate Sardar Azmoun is also in the squad. Azmoun has openly criticized the Iranian political leadership, refused to celebrate goals against Senegal in honor of Amini’s memory and refused to take off his jacket during the national anthem to hide the confederation’s emblem.
The results so far have suggested that there is no dissension in the team. But now the stakes are raised somewhat horribly. Could the difficult situation in the home country be the spark for a World Cup disaster?
Commentator’s tip: Brace yourself, football is coming home
In purely tactical terms, much of the preliminary talk is about whether Iran will be able to cope with England’s running-strong outsides. England will hold the ball, Iran will wait.
This is hardly going to be a target party. This is unlikely to be a classic (unless Milad Mohammadi tries his hand at one mildly creative throw-in variant again).
But this will still end in a 1–0 English victory. And well, guess twice if it doesn’t raise the World Cup fever among the “lads”. As of today, football is on its way home. Again.
At 18.00 Senegal-Netherlands, TV2 and Arenan
Group A, Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
Commentator: Chriso Vuojärvi