By Neil Leverett
- World Cup Group G preview and predictions
- Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – In the build up to the World Cup, Britwatch Sports will look at every group and give our predictions on who will finish where. Today we look at Group G which features Belgium, England, Tunisia and Panama.
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June 18th: Belgium vs Panama (16:00)
June 18th: Tunisia vs England (19:00)
June 23rd: Belgium vs Tunisia (13:00)
June 24th: England vs Panama (13:00)
June 28th: England vs Belgium (19:00)
June 28th: Panama vs Tunisia (19:00)
Fifa World Ranking: 3
World Cup Appearance: 14th
Previous Best: Fourth (1986)
Qualifying: Top in UEFA Group
This group will be one of the one intriguing pools for many different reason this summer. Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ are starting to look the real deal and their experience in losing to Wales at Euro 2016 could hold Roberto Martinez’s men in good stead coming into the World Cup.
The options for the Red Devils are, frankly, ridiculous. An attack of Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard, Yannick Carrasco and Kevin De Bruyne as well as striking options in Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi leave Belgium with riches of talent to let loose on world football.
Defensively they also boast the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, the versatile Thomas Meunier and Vincent Kompany – although the Manchester City man continues to struggle through injury. There are perhaps chinks in the Belgian armour to be found, but on the whole Belgium may take some beating. England will be the first to test their resolution, in what will for the most part be a encounter of the Premier League’s best players. That could end in stalemate but expect the goal difference to tot up in favour of the Belgians.
If pitted against the top dogs of world football, I have no doubt that Martinez’s men will compete, but the tag of underachievers will always haunt them until they finally reach – at the very least – a first semi-final berth since 1986. Belgium have the undoubted strength to potential go all the way, but will Martinez be able to get the very best out of his side? Time will tell.
Fifa World Ranking: 12
World Cup Appearance: 16th
Previous Best: Winners (1966)
Qualifying: Top in UEFA Group
This is it for England. After successive disasters in major tournaments in 2014 and 2016, Gareth Southgate’s men have the chance to eradicate those memories with their youngest squad to travel to a World Cup, and have a decent shot of exceeding expectations.
Few can argue the Three Lions lack firepower in one of the best strikers in world football Harry Kane, alongside Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, Marcus Rashford – who seems bent on proving a point to club boss Jose Mourinho – with other options including Jesse Lingard and Jamie Vardy who do not struggle for pace.
Their remain questions as to England’s creativity and defensive issues, however in recent months that problem does seem to have possible remedies with a fluid back three system, with players who are comfortable on the ball and have the versatility and speed to push forward also.
England’s biggest players could however be the likes of Jordan Henderson and ‘X’ factors such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Fabian Delph and the uncapped Trent Alexander-Arnold, all three of whom could have a major say in England’s fortunes in the motherland.
I fully expect England to progress – well they should – and whether they finish first or second is largely irrelevant as they will face either Colombia, Poland or Senegal in the last 16, all three of which have their own strengths and weaknesses, with a similar route to a potential final to boot.
I am tipping a quarter-final spot for the Three Lions which would be a success no doubt with a likely opponent of Germany once again in the knockout stages. One thing I will say however, is this team seems far more united than any since probably France ’98 and off the back of the U-17 and U-19 successes in the their respective World Cups last summer, I would not be surprised if they upset the odds. It am quietly optimistic.
Fifa World Ranking: 21
World Cup Appearance: 6th
Previous Best: Groups (1978, 1998, 2002, and 2006)
2014: Did not qualify
Qualifying: Top in CAF Group C
Tunisia play their first World Cup since 2006, having yet to emerge from a group stage in five previous attempts and I don’t expect any change this year. They will be organised however that is for sure.
The Eagles of Carthage have been dealt a major blow to their hopes by the injury of star striker Youssef Msakni. Creativity will be the bone of contention for the north Africans, with former Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri an inconsistent but nevertheless a potential fly in the ointment in the outcome of Group G.
Aside from Yohan Benalouane of Leicester City, Tunisia are a largely unknown quantity and that makes them dangerous opponents especially for England twenty years on from the two countries meeting in France – opening their group stage battle as they do this time around. As Spain found out last weekend, breaking down their defence will take patience and diligence, but provided that occurs I see little chance in them reaching Round two.
Fifa World Ranking: 55
World Cup Appearance: 1st
Previous Best: N/A
Qualifying: Third in CONCACAF
Much like Tunisia, Panama will be an awkward opponent to play. Making their World Cup bow in Group G, few are expecting the Panamanians to carry much threat comparatively, but having made history for the sport in their country, will put on a unified front in Russia.
Coached by Hernan Dario Gomez – coincidentally the man in charge of Colombia when England beat them in 1998 – Panama play organised football and will be a physical side to contend with also even if they may not pull up any trees as far as offensive play goes. With six players from the MLS on show, Gabriel Torres will likely carry the greatest threat in attack.
When Los Canaleros play this summer, the small Central American nation will grind to a halt such has been their impact in qualifying for the World Cup. I can actually see Panama dragging out shock draw against England in their second game, and after Costa Rica four years ago anything is possible, but their participation will surely be short-lived.
The XXI FIFA World Cup Starts on June 14, as Russia host Saudi Arabia in the tournament’s curtain-raiser in Moscow at 4pm UK time.
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