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Group G Preview & Tips: Belgium and England to battle for top spot
Belgium and England are favoured to emerge from Group G at the expense of minnows Tunisia and Panama
2018 World Cup Group G Preview & Tips
Group G appears a straightforward affair with Belgium and England progressing with ease against unfancied nations Tunisia and Panama. The battle for top spot will be fierce and likely to be decided in the match between the Red Devils and the Three Lions on 28 June in Kaliningrad.
Tunisia qualified for their fifth World Cup without losing a match, edging the Democratic Republic of Congo by just one point. The Eagles of Carthage have never progressed past the group stage at the World Cup and won just one game in 12 attempts. Managed by Nabil Maaloul since 2017, not much is expected of Tunisia who appear to lack the sufficient quality required to get past Belgium and England.
Attacker Wahbi Khazri is set to be a key player for Tunisia after a solid season at Rennes, followed by defenders Ali Maâloul, Aymen Abdennour and goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi. In a cruel blow to the Eagles of Carthage, star player Youssef Msakni suffered a cruciate ligament injury which rules him out of the World Cup. Msakni was Tunisia’s top scorer in qualification and scored 25 goals for club side Al Duhail this season.
It is very unlikely that Tunisia will progress out of the group stage. They narrowly escaped from a relatively easy qualification group and have just lost their top scorer and best player Youssef Msakni. With difficult games against England and Belgium to begin their campaign in Russia, they could be playing for pride in the final game against Panama with their World Cup dreams already over.
Belgium have had a ‘golden generation’ for some years now but have been unable to fulfil their promise. Previous manager Marc Wilmots was a pretender who didn’t possess the tactical ability or man management skills to get the best out of an extremely talented squad including Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Radja Nainggolan, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku.
Spanish manager Roberto Martínez has been in charge since August 2016 with Thierry Henry acting as his assistant. The Red Devils qualified for their 13th World Cup after breezing through qualification winning 9 out of their 10 matches, scoring 43 goals including 11 to Lukaku. On paper Belgium can match the best teams in Russia and deserve to be one of the favourites.
The big question is if Martínez can get them playing to their full ability. It feels like we have been here before as much was expected in Brazil 2014 and France 2016 where they were highly fancied only to disappoint in the quarter-finals. Belgium will ease into the World Cup with games against Panama and Tunisia before a crunch match against England to decide who wins Group G.
Panama qualified for their first World Cup in dramatic fashion, finishing one point ahead of the United States with a 2-1 victory against Costa Rica with a Román Torres game in the 88th minute. Winning just three of their 10 games, Panama finished above Honduras on goal difference to avoid a play-off against Australia, a remarkable fairy-tale story with a national holiday called throughout the country to celebrate.
Managed by Colombian Hernán Gómez since 2014, not much is expected from the Red Tide for good reason. Gómez’ managerial career is underwhelming to say the least and his squad lacks the talent to seriously compete against Belgium and England. Key players are likely to include Román Torres, Armando Cooper, Alberto Quintero, Gabriel Gómez, Aníbal Godoy and Gabriel Torres.
Most of the players that secured qualification are over 30 years of age so it will be interesting to see if Gómez uses the World Cup to bring through some younger players such as Ricardo Avila. Hammered 6-0 by Switzerland in a recent friendly, let’s not kid ourselves here. Panama have no chance in Group G and will do well to avoid thrashings against Belgium and England.
The Three Lions had no difficulty qualifying for their 15th World Cup, winning eight of their 10 games and conceding just three goals. The 1966 World Cup winners have been managed by Gareth Southgate since 2016, he will be confident of guiding England out of an easy group after the disappointment of Brazil 2014 where England failed to win a game, and an agonising loss against Iceland at the Euros in 2016.
As usual with England there is an abundance of talent but Gareth Southgate doesn’t seem to know what his best team is, particularly in regards to the goalkeeper and central defensive positions. Harry Kane will be a key player after emerging as one of the best strikers in football, while there are a host of talented players coming through such as Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli, John Stones, Eric Dier, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Marcus Rashford.
Southgate will be familiar with many of the younger brigade after being the England U21 manager between 2013 and 2016. The pieces are in place for a strong showing in Russia with winnable games against Tunisia and Panama before a game against Belgium likely to decide the winner of Group G. England’s uncertainty in defence and mental fragility under pressure could eventually be their undoing, but it will be exciting to watch.
Belgium and England are likely to fight it out for top spot after both nations account for Tunisia and Panama. Belgium have a better squad and are more settled under Martínez, so the Red Devils get the nod ahead of the Three Lions. Surely even the most pessimistic England supporters expect to progress past the group stage?
Group E Winners: Belgium at 1.83
Group E Second place: England at 2.10