Time to get the calculators ready as the race to qualify goes down to the wire
And so, this is it: the trials and tribulations of tournament football encapsulated in 90 minutes of nerve-shredding, calculator-prodding, floor-pacing action. Tonight at 7pm, in a cauldron of emotion within a balmy desert state, England and Wales lay their World Cup aspirations on the line with a place in the last 16 at stake.
And, because two British teams are facing off, it’s not straightforward. But is it ever?
Of course, if things had gone to plan the final matchday in Group B should have been academic. On paper, both England and Wales should have had maximum points after already beating both the United States and Iran, leaving just a domestic dust-up to decide group winners and runners-up, and whether they play their last-16 game on Saturday or Sunday.
However, England followed the enthralling 6-2 thumping of Iran with the excruciating goalless draw against the US, while Wales crumbled against Iran after scrambling a draw against the USA.
It means, going into tonight’s last-game deciders, England have 4 points, Iran 3, USA 2 and Wales 1, with all mathematically having a chance to finish first or second in the group.
England are in the driving seat and will qualify if they avoid defeat. If they win, they will have seven points and will go through to a tie against the Group A runners-up on Sunday (7pm). They could still draw and finish top unless Iran beat the USA or the Americans win by at least four goals. If that game finishes level, Gareth Southgate’s team will remain in pole position, unless they lose to Wales by four or more goals.
For the Welsh to qualify, they must beat England and then hope the USA and Iran draw. If there is a positive result in that game, Wales would need to have beaten England by at least four goals to progress to a tie against the Group A winners on Saturday (3pm).
To add to the permutations, the USA will go through if they win, while Iran need only a point to reach the last 16… unless Wales beat England.
. The Group B drama unfolds on BBC from 7pm.