World Cup 2018: your guide to Group G
Differing expectations for Belgium and England but both are set for the knockout stages
England’s Marcus Rashford in action against Holland. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty
This World Cup is the tournament where Belgium’s golden generation finally need to deliver. The Red Devils have a fantastic squad on paper, with strength throughout, but they are running out on chances to deliver on their considerable potential. England head into the tournament without the usual high expectations - Gareth Southgate’s squad is limited, but he has a clutch of young, exciting players. The midfield - or rather lack of one - is likely to prove England’s downfall. Tunisia’s slim hopes have been shattered by an injury to key man Youssef Msakni, while Panama are making their tournament bow.
Road to Russia
Belgium and England both romped through their qualification groups without losing a game - despite never threatening at major tournaments, England are now unbeaten in qualifiers since 2009. Tunisia topped a group containing Guinea, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo with four wins and two draws. Panama’s maiden World Cup appearance was sealed in dramatic fashion, national hero Roman Torres scoring a late winner against Costa Rica to send his side through at the expense of the USA.
World Cup Pedigree
Anyone old enough to remember England’s World Cup win in 1966 will be nearing 60-years-old, but the team of Bobby Charlton and co remain the national benchmark. Belgium made the semi-finals in 1986 - where they ran into Diego Maradona’s Argentina - while Tunisia became the first African side to win a game at the tournament when they beat Mexico 3-1 in 1978.
Roberto Martinez seems to be getting an attacking tune out of Belgium but his side look to have defensive frailties - a theme familiar with his time in charge of Everton. Gareth Southgate has begun to shake his reputation as an FA yes-man - he has made some ruthless squad calls and looks to have a clear and coherent plan. Qualification means Nabil Maaloul’s second stint in charge of Tunisia can be considered a success, while Hernan Dario Gomez took Colombia to the 1998 World Cup and Ecuador to the 2002 tournament.
If Belgium click, they can go far - particularly with Kevin De Bruyne starting in midfield behind Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku. Harry Kane will captain England aided by an exciting supporting-cast including Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Dele Alli. Naim Sliti and Wahbi Khazri will carry Tunisia’s attacking threat while imposing centre-half Roman Torres can add to his legend in Panama.
The draw was kind to Belgium and England, who should comfortably qualify as the group’s top two. Expect the fixture between the two to be tight.