By Neil Leverett and Niall Clarke
- England vs Tunisia Preview
- The Three Lions kick off their 2018 World Cup campaign on Monday
- Gareth Southgate’s men looking for only their fourth major tournament win since 2010
VOLGOGRAD, RUSSIA – Gareth Southgate’s England begin their World Cup Group G campaign against Tunisia on Monday night and we preview their opening match in Volgograd.
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It is strange to go into a tournament with hardly any expectations for the Three Lions, but 2018 in Russia is just that. Not many are expecting England to contend for the World Cup, but there is an air of excitement and optimism that they could perform well in this year’s competition.
After getting drawn into Group G with Belgium, Panama and Monday’s opposition Tunisia there was collective relief for England fans. This is a group that they should make it out of and with relative ease too with the Belgians being the only major test. Being drawn alongside Group H which features a number of good teams but none of the elite contenders leaves England in a position where they are a good shot to make the quarter finals of a major tournament for the first time since 2006.
This tournament is as much about building for the future as it is achieving something England have not managed since they hosted the tournament in 1966. Most fans will be happy with a quarter final finish as long as they do not bow out embarrassingly and from there they can look to make a splash in Qatar in four years time.
Rare opening win imperative
A win against Tunisia is a must if England are to move on from the last four years of major tournament football. The opening display can often set out what is to come for the rest of the tournament. A defeat can leave you fighting an uphill battle, hence why the first round of group stage fixtures can often be tight affairs as teams try avoid defeat in their opening fixture.
England have had a successful lead up to the World Cup after going unbeaten in qualifying, but the tournament itself is a different beast. The pressure is amplified and the opposition becomes tougher and tougher as you progress. There will be plenty of nerves, especially from those who are featuring in their first World Cup tournament, and a win will go a long way to settling them.
The Three Lions have not won an opening fixture for 12 years, and as Germany proved in the their shock loss to Mexico on Sunday, an opening defeat often leaves a mountain a climb. Loss to the Tunisians – though unthinkable – would not be terminal for Gareth Southgate’s spirited band of brothers, but will leave work to do to progress to the last 16.
In many way, their first game against the Eagles of Carthage is perhaps their trickiest one of the three games. Whilst the north Africans can play their football, they will more likely set deep looking for rare forays in the wide areas. That makes the task for England the more difficult, whilst against Panama it will surely be a matter of time before a goal comes. Against Belgium, the Red Devils will attack from the get-go which should play handsomely into English hands.
Southgate set to go on front foot
Southgate will likely persist with the 3-5-2 formation and will look to the likes of Dele Alli and Jese Lingard to link up with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane who will likely be up front for this match. Jordan Henderson will possibly play as a pivot in midfield as the Three Lions will be looking for more creativity than stability against a side that will likely set up defensively.
He will also have a job of protecting the back three and the goalkeeper who is likely to be Jordan Pickford, whilst the wing-backs push forward to offer width going forward.
Of course, England will be expected to beat Tunisia and make a winning start to their campaign, but that does not mean they can be underestimated. The Tunisians also went through qualifying unbeaten and have this unity and fighting spirit about them that will no doubt cause problems.
With Youssef Msakni missing, Wahbi Khazri becomes the main inspiration for this side and they will look for him to be the driving force behind their creativity. The Tunisians can play some good stuff when they have the ball but against better quality opposition they will likely sit back and frustrate England, much like they did to Spain in a recent friendly.
Niall: This should be rather comfortable than England as Tunisia will not likely offer much going forward to trouble the Three Lions. However I expect them to make it difficult for England to break them down which will lead to a match that looks like an attack vs defence training session. In the opening game, less risks will be taken so I doubt England will blow Tunisia away. They will be comfortable though and should get three points on the board without conceding.
Prediction: England 2-0 Tunisia
Neil: A lot depends on the opening 20-25 minutes. I can see England going hard on the offensive to snuff out any potential nerves early on and if they get an early goal it could be a comfortable evening. However, this is England in the World Cup we are talking about and I expect Tunisia to make it a difficult 90 minutes.
I like our chances from set pieces, but the pace of Sterling and Lingard on break will be pivotal to the three points. Chances will come and almost certainly chances will go begging, but I am pretty comfident of getting the job done. Even if Tunisia give us an early scare, it was similar in Marseille at France ’98 and I expect with the options off the bench we have to by hook or by crook get a hugely important win. Hopefully Kane can get off to an electric start.
Prediction: England 2-0 Tunisia
England kick off their 2018 World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday June 18th at 7PM BST.
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