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USMNT facing some familiar opponents

The U.S. men’s national team makes its return to the World Cup with some familiar foes waiting for them.

The USMNT, 16th in the FIFA world rankings, has faced two of its three group-stage opponents in previous World Cups, and faced the third opponent in a friendly two years ago.

Here’s a look at the teams the USMNT will square off with in Group B:

vs. Wales

Monday, 2 p.m., Fox

FIFA ranking: No. 19

The USMNT played Wales on Nov. 12, 2020, in its first game since the start of the COVID pandemic, ending a nine-month layoff for the squad. The result at Liberty Stadium in Swansea was a 0-0 draw. Christian Pulisic missed the game with an injury. The game marked the USMNT debuts for Giovanni Reyna and Yunus Musah.

Wales is making its first World Cup appearance since 1958. Manager Rob Page recently led Wales to the Round of 16 in last summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament. That followed Wales’ stunning run to the semifinals of Euro 2016.

Led by the likes of forward Gareth Bale and midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Wales is dangerous enough on the counter to make noise in this group and give the U.S. fits.

Gareth Bale of Wales
Gareth Bale of Wales
Getty Images

vs. England

Friday, 2 p.m., Fox

FIFA ranking: No. 5

Here we go again. The U.S. and England faced off in Group C during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, beginning the group stage with a 1-1 draw. Both teams secured 1-0 victories in the final game of the group stage to advance to the Round of 16.

There could be a lot of moving parts for England this time around, but one thing is for certain: Harry Kane will be front and center. The 29-year-old Tottenham star scored four goals for England during its run to the Euro 2020 final after winning the Golden Boot (most goals) at the 2018 World Cup with six. His 12 goals this English Premier League season are the second-most in the league. Keeping Kane at bay will be a priority. Teenage midfielder Jude Bellingham is another key player to watch.

Harry Kane of England
Harry Kane of England
Getty Images

England could deploy a three-man back line, something manager Gareth Southgate used in matches earlier this year.

vs. Iran

Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2 p.m., Fox

FIFA ranking: No. 20

Iran defeated the USMNT 2-1 in the group stage of the 1998 World Cup in France; both teams ended up failing to qualify for the knockout stage.

Iran is in a strange position after making a coaching change just two months ago, firing Croatian Dragan Skocic. His replacement, Carlos Queiroz of Portugal, was Iran’s manager from 2011-19, leading the squad during the 2014 and ’18 World Cups. He had short stints with Colombia and Egypt in recent years, leaving the latter after failing to qualify for Qatar.

Queiroz’s Iran teams have frustrated opponents with a relentless commitment to defense, but they also possess some attacking threats, led by Mehdi Taremi, who plays for Portuguese club Porto.

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