The second round of fixtures kick off on Friday as the stakes go up with teams set to play their way into the knock-out phase or out of contention to progress at the World Cup.
Another four-game day begins with Wales taking on Iran in the early match, kicking off at 10am, Irish time, and it is followed by the hosts, Qatar, who will be looking to get going with a clash against Senegal, at 1pm.
Later in the afternoon, at 4pm, Group A continues as both Netherlands and Ecuador look to maintain their 100% start to the tournament as both sides opened with victories.
The evening’s entertainment sees England looking to stamp their credentials as contenders for the World Cup as they go up against the United States at the Al Bayt Stadium, kick-off 7pm.
Wales have been handed a boost ahead of the game as Joe Allen looks set to be passed fit for their clash against Iran.
A game that Rob Page’s side are now expected to win on the back of Iran’s poor showing against England, and securing three points would give them a great chance of progressing to the knock-out stages.
Their first appearance at a World Cup since 1958, Wales waited 64 years to return to the biggest stage in world football, and while they wanted to show that they belong here, it was not evident from the opening 45 minutes of their first outing against the UNITED STATES.
A much more convincing performance in the second half, but there is a feeling that like several other teams at the tournament, Wales’ golden generation have aged considerably and it’s not immediately obvious that they have the players coming through to replace the likes of Gareth Bale , Aaron Ramsey, and Joe Allen.
Wales’ draw was a result of a change of tactics by coach Rob Page at half-time as he introduced target man Kieffer Moore, who changed the game and brought them back into the contest after they trailed in the first half.
“Lessons have been learned,” Page said. “It was important we didn’t lose the game.
“We have strength in depth. I can look over my shoulder to the bench and we’ve got players who can come on and have a real impact on games.”
Wales will face a challenge against Iran, whose Portuguese coach Carlos Queiroz will expect a turnaround from his players after they limped through a heavy defeat.
Iran will feel that they have a lot more to offer than their showing against England in the first game, where they were knocked off their stride with the loss of their goalkeeper, who was involved in a collision and replaced after 20 minutes.
Iran coach Queiroz will be sweating over the fitness of keeper Alireza Beiranvand after the horrible coming together with his team mate Hosseini Majid as he tried to deal with a cross and spent several minutes knitting on the turf having treatment.
Iran are also dealing with issues off the field.
Fans have accused the squad of siding with a state crackdown on the unrest in Iran during which activists say more than 400 people have been killed.
But the players chose not to sing their country’s anthem before their match against England in an apparent show of support for protesters back home.
The losers of this tie could be eliminated from the tournament by day’s end, depending on the result from the other Group A game, however, both sides will still have ambitions of staying involved in the third round of fixtures.
Senegal, in particular, will take heart from a lot of aspects of their opening-day defeat to the Netherlands, and will feel that they can get the better of both Qatar and Ecuador to progress.
The host nation got a real wake-up call in that opening game of the World Cup as they were comprehensively beaten by Ecuador. They will expect a much-improved performance against Senegal.
“Our nerves betrayed us,” said Qatar coach Felix Sanchez. “We were unable to string together four passes in a row. Also, many defensive gaps. The team was not balanced and that hurt us a lot.”
Defeat at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium would ensure Asian champions Qatar become only the second World Cup hosts to fail to get past the first round after South Africa in 2010.
Sanchez, who has had his players together almost like a club side for months in the build up to the World Cup, has promised a more “effective and competitive” team but on the evidence of their opener they are going to need much more against Senegal .
They can ill afford the defensive frailty and flapping from goalkeeper Saad Alsheeb that marked their World Cup debut on Sunday.
Senegal let slip a positive start by conceding two late goals against the Netherlands in their group opener on Monday, with World Goalkeeper of the Year Edouard Mendy partly to blame.
But while he is likely to keep his place, changes to the starting line-up will be forced on coach Aliou Cisse after midfielder Cheikhou Kouyate was forced from the field with a thigh muscle tear and defender Abdou Diallo with a thigh strain.
There is also likely to be a switch up front where Senegal could start with an extra attacker in Bamba Dieng.
“Football is about efficiency when you don’t score you cannot win,” said Cisse, who lost talisman Sadio Mane before the start of the tournament.
Mane’s absence was particularly noticeable against the Dutch as Senegal laced pace and determination in attack.
“We will work on it. The fact of having lost our opening match will motivate us,” added the coach.
“Not everything we did was bad, it is up to us to rectify our mistakes.”
Either Netherlands or Ecuador can become the first team through to the knock-out stages by securing a victory in the second Group A game of the day.
The Dutch may not have performed to their absolute best in their opener, with some of their key players looking a yard or two off the pace, however, a sign of their quality was evident as they grabbed that late Cody Gakpo goal before Davy Klaassen made sure of the victory in injury time.
Ecuador were head and shoulders above Qatar in their opener and they eased to a victory, while it will be a much different proposition as they go head-to-head with one of Europe’s strongest outfits.
Enner Valencia grabbed both goals in the Qatar win and the former Everton and West Ham man’s form will be key for the South Americans as they eye a place in the last 16.
Dutch boss Louis Van Gaal was pleased with the three points, and vindication of his surprise decision to hand goalkeeper Andries Noppert an international debut, but did criticize the manner of the victory, as did captain Virgil van Dijk.
“We won but we also know that we can and must do better,” the skipper said.
“Going forward we sometimes tried to force things, and we too often left ourselves exposed to Senegal’s counter-attacks. That is an area in which we will need to improve because it is an art that our next opponents, Ecuador, are very good at .
“But I am optimistic because I feel we are going to get better,” Van Dijk added.
Ecuador are confident that Valencia will be fit to play despite some concerns over a knee sprain.
Goalkeeper Hernan Galindez said Saudi Arabia’s shock win over Argentina on Tuesday proved no team was unbeatable.
“I think that Argentina’s defeat will not be the last surprise of this World Cup,” he added.
“Despite the victory of the Netherlands, they were evenly matched against Senegal. There are certainly ways to hurt the Netherlands.
“It will be a tough match, but I expect the Netherlands to approach us with respect,” added the 35-year-old.
The Dutch will likely give Memphis Depay the start after he came off the bench against Senegal for his first match in two months after struggling with a hamstring injury.
This England side proved that they were a big tournament team at Euro 2020, and Gareth Southgate will be hoping his side can go one better at the World Cup, having lost last year’s delayed final to Italy.
So far so good for the English as they put down the first marker of the tournament with that 6-2 victory, receiving praise from all quarters for their opening performance.
Harry Kane looks set to be fit to play, and there may not be a stronger squad in the tournament, with the exception of Brazil, when looking at some of the talent that was left on the bench for the opening game, most notably Phil Foden , Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Kalvin Philips.
USA started well against Wales but struggled to maintain their momentum as the game went on and could have lost the opening game; a draw the right result really between the two sides likely to be battling it out to go through with the English.
England have yet to beat the United States in World Cup meetings, suffering an unthinkable loss in 1950 that was regarded at the time as a national humiliation and playing out a 1-1 draw in South Africa in 2010.
Despite the soaring confidence England will be extremely mindful of Gregg Berhalter’s callow American squad who, with an average age of 25, are the second youngest of the 32 nations assembled in Qatar after Ghana.
Timothy Weah scored a goal his illustrious father George would have been proud of to give the US the lead over Wales, while fellow 22-year-old Sergino Dest and 19-year-old Yunus Musah also impressed on their World Cup bows.
Having not qualified in 2018, Berhalter, like Southgate, has put his faith in youth and is being rewarded, even if there was a sense of disappointment that a team which began with 11 World Cup debutants against Wales could not see out the victory.
Some of his players looked fatigued by the end but asked if he needed to lift his players, Berhalter said: “We get to play one of the teams we think are one of the favorites for the tournament and I don’t think there’s going to be many tired players come Friday.”
Southgate said he did not enjoy the latter stages of England’s thrashing of Iran, annoyed that his side had switched off and conceded a couple of goals.
But England have arguably been the most impressive team so far in the early days of the tournament, with Southgate loosening the shackles and letting his side run free against Iran with five players on the scoresheet.
An athletic United States will be a far harder nut to crack though with several of their players seasoned Premier League performers such as Chelsea forward Christian Pulisic and Leeds United youngster Brenden Aaronson.
“We need to be better than we were (against Iran) against the USA because they will be coming for us full throttle. We will have to reset,” Southgate said.