World Cup 2018: Group G preview
The World Cup brings many differing emotions to the 53 million people living in England.
Some may remember The Three Lions famous triumph in 1966. Whereas others can only remember the agonising losses to Portugal on penalties, the unjust decision against Germany, the group stage exit in Brazil four years ago or David Beckham’s red card in 98′.
However everyone in England, whether they like to admit it or not, is filled with a tiny bit of optimism believing that England can win the World Cup once again.
England are one of two sides at the tournament (along with Saudi Arabia) to not have a single player in their squad who plays their club football outside their country.
Gareth Southgate’s team are in a group with Belgium, Panama and Tunisia this summer and the nation (as well as the world) will be expecting England to at least finish second.
How good are Belgium?!
Belgium are one of international football’s best sides with many world class Premier League players in their squad.
Former Wigan and Everton manager Roberto Martinez, is in charge of the Belgian Red Devils with Arsenal and France’s all-time leading goal scorer, Thierry Henry, acting as his assistant.
Everybody thinks that Panama and Tunisia are travelling to Russia, solely to make up the numbers but often the so called “weaker sides” are the ones who cause the “bigger teams” the most trouble.
Can Panama cause an upset?
Panama qualified for the World Cup in dramatic fashion, finishing one point ahead of the USA and beating Honduras to a spot in Russia through goal difference as the two countries were level on points.
A national holiday was called throughout the country after Panama qualified for the World Cup for the first time in their history.
As for Tunisia, they qualified for the World Cup without losing a match.
The Tunisians conceded just 4 goals in the process and beat Congo, Libya and Guinea to a spot in Russia.
This will be Tunisia’s fifth time at the World Cup finals but they have never progressed out of the group stage.
Tunisia have faced both England and Belgium at the World Cup in previous years.
Belgium were held to a 1-1 draw in the 2002 group stage but England were victorious against them 4 years earlier at France 98′.
Panama and Tunisia are likely to defend for their lives against England and Belgium which could make Group G very interesting (albeit slightly boring!)
England will be playing at their sixth consecutive World Cup this summer and will be hoping to progress past the Last 16 for the first time since 2006.
England fans have suffered from serious heartbreak over the past 50 years or so but definitely have a very talented side.
The Premier League is known to be the best in the world and every single player in the England squad plays in English football’s top flight.
England’s greatest ever goal scorer, Wayne Rooney, retired from international football in 2017 which means that this summer, Harry Kane will lead the line for his country.
Gareth Southgate has stuck by Joe Hart this season despite the West Ham goalkeeper having a poor season.
Jordan Pickford, Jack Butland and Nick Pope are just three of numerous English goalkeepers who would be more than ready to take Hart’s place in the line up if Southgate chooses to drop him.
England’s midfield is dependant on injuries and current form.
Southgate often likes to give young players a chance but he will surely not risk taking in-experienced players to Russia this summer?
Jack Wilshere may be a controversial player but when he puts on that England shirt, he is usually the best player on the pitch.
England’s defence could be seen as vulnerable and the midfield could be described as “not good enough” but there is one position where England can not be doubted: Up front.
Harry Kane was the most prolific goal scorer in world football during 2017 and all of us at home will be praying that he can keep up his insane goal scoring form this summer (and not take corners).
England’s key men
Harry Kane (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Man City) & Eric Dier (Tottenham)
Spurs are lucky enough to own the best striker in world football in Harry Kane and quite frankly, England’s hopes in Russia all depend on him.
Kane is the one who should be grabbing the goals for England this summer and if he is not scoring or not fit, England will be looking at an early exit.
Raheem Sterling has been sensational for Man City this season.
Fans were starting to doubt whether he was worth the money that City paid for him but he has come to life this year, scoring and assisting in almost every game as City close in on their third Premier League title.
Eric Dier will play for England as either a holding midfielder or a centre back.
Dier isn’t the most technically gifted player but he does as he is told and he does it well.
He toughens up the England side and is capable of scoring an important goal when it is needed.
Belgium head to Russia as one of the favourites for the tournament due to their brilliant squad.
The Belgium team is blessed with talent all over the pitch from their goalkeeper right up to their forwards.
The Red Devils topped their qualification group in style, winning 9 out of their 10 matches, only dropping points in a 1-1 draw against Greece.
Belgium scored 43 goals in qualification, 11 of which were scored by Man United’s Romelu Lukaku.
Even PSG right back, Thomas Meunier scored 5 goals in their qualifying games which shows just how good the Belgium side really is.
Belgium’s best result at the World Cup came in 1986 when they finished fourth.
This summer’s tournament will be Belgium’s 13th World Cup (they say it’s a lucky number you know?)
The Premier League is well represented in their side with players from Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham at the core of their team.
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois starts in goal for Martinez’s side with Liverpool’s Simon Mignolet as his back up.
Tottenham centre backs Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are an essential part of the Belgium line up whilst their midfield is something else.
Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, arguably the Premier League’s two best players, play in the attacking half of the team and they are joined by United striker Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium’s key men
Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) & Romelu Lukaku (Man United)
Its tough to choose Belgium’s three key players but these three are just something else.
Hazard is one of the most skilful players in the world and is expected to replace Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid.
Hazard played a central role in Chelsea’s Premier League wins during the 204/15 and 2016/17 seasons.
Kevin De Bruyne is the best midfielder in the world and that’s a fact.
The 26 year old has been Manchester City’s main man this season and has scored some vital goals whilst assisting almost every other game.
And finally, there is Romelu Lukaku.
The former Everton striker became Belgium’s all time leading goalscorer when he netted against Japan in November 2017 aged just 24.
Panama will be competing at their first ever World Cup this summer.
The 2009 Copa Centoramerica Champions don’t have many big name players in their team but qualified for this summer’s tournament ahead of Honduras and the USA.
Panama scored just 9 goals throughout qualification which suggests that England won’t need to worry about their attacking threats.
A large number of Panama’s players are currently based in America, playing their football in the MLS.
Los Canaleros qualified for the tournament after Roman Torres’ 88th minute winner against Costa Rica.
Jaime Penedo (Dinamo București), Román Torres (Seattle Sounders) & Gabriel Torres (Huachipato)
Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo is an established stopper with over 130 caps for his country.
Penned kept four clean sheets in qualification and Penedo made some vital saves against some tough opposition.
Roman Torres was Panama’s joint top scorer in qualification with 2 goals which is more impressive than it sounds considering he is a centre back.
Gabriel Torres tied with his name sake in terms of goals during the qualifiers, but this Torres is a striker, and a pretty quick one too.
Panama’s joint record goal scorers are Blas Pérez and Luis Tejada but with the duo well into their thirties, they could miss out on the opportunity to represent their country at their first ever World Cup finals.
Judging by the looks of things, it is unlikely that Tunisia will progress out of the group stage at the World Cup for the first time in their history.
Tunisia manager Nabil Maâloul has 74 caps for his country and played for German club Hannover in the late eighties to the early nineties.
In his whole managerial career, Maâloul has lost just 26 matches and even led ES Tunis to African Champions League glory in 2011.
Tunisia won the 2004 African Cup of Nations but have had no such luck since then.
The core of Tunisia’s team play their football in France’s first and second divisions.
Wahbi Khazri (Rennes), Aymen Abdennour (Marseille) & Youssef Msakni (Al-Duhail)
Former Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri is Tunisia’s star man.
The 26 year old is enjoying his football again in Ligue 1 this season. Few can forget his stunning goal against Chelsea in 2016.
Abdennour is a very solid centre back and is an established defender in France.
He will be the one marking Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku.
And finally, Youssef Msakni is Tunisia’s current top scorer with 14 goals.
The 27 year old will want to score Tunisia’s first goal at the World Cup finals since Jawhar Mnari’s strike against Spain in 2006.
The results in Group G
Belgium 4-0 Panama
Tunisia 0-2 England
Belgium 3-0 Tunisia
England 1-0 Panama
England 1-2 Belgium
Panama 1-1 Tunisia
The verdict on Group G
Belgium should top this group due to their insane amount of quality and squad depth.
Even the most pessimistic of England fans wouldn’t be able to say that they believe that The Three Lions won’t progress past the group stage.
Tunisia and Panama should be heading home but we expect them both to score at least one goal each throughout their three matches.