How Will England’s World Cup Group Pan Out?

World Cup 2018” (CC BY 2.0) by nhadatvideo

Just for once, expectations surrounding England at a major football tournament haven’t been blown out of all proportion.

That will suit Gareth Southgate and the Three Lions nicely, as they compete in Group G at the 2018 World Cup finals.

England’s pool in Russia also contains North African nation Tunisia, Latin America crossroads country Panama, and Belgium – where so many top footballers come from and go on to play in the Premier League.

On paper at least, this group looks pretty cut and dried. Belgium are rated third in the world by FIFA’s official rankings with the Three Lions 12th. Tunisia are just outside the top 20 and then there’s a big gap to Panama, who are down in 55th spot.

A straight tricast bet with William Hill on Group G reflecting those world rankings rewards punters as Belgium are 12/5 to win the pool, while England also qualify as runners-up and Tunisia take third place ahead of Panama. 

Given the gulf in class between the four competing countries, that looks more than fair. The only trouble is football is seldom a sport that pans out as you expect in practice.

There is nothing to suggest Tunisia, who rely heavily on former Sunderland flop Wahbi Khazri for a bit of guile, can cause England problems going forward.

The Eagles of Carthage have also taken the bold step of leaving top centre-back Aymen Abdennour out of their squad for the World Cup, despite playing at four Africa Cup of Nations finals.

It could yet prove a mistake when the Tunisian defenders who are in Russia line-up against 40-goal striker Harry Kane.

Just five of Panama’s players, meanwhile, ply their trade outside of the Americas. Veteran strikers Blas Perez and Luis Tejeda share the country’s all-time top goalscorer record on 43 apiece going into the tournament.

Whether these names can step up and deliver on the grandest stage during the autumn of their careers remains to be seen but both Belgium and England should be confident of being the Central Americans.

Panama call upon eight players aged 30 or over for their World Cup debut. Belgium have seven but these are all involved at a much higher level for their clubs.

England’s relative youth is no guarantee of innovation, yet it’s hard to make the case for anything else other than two wins. After tackling Tunisia in Volgograd, the Three Lions play Panama in Nizhny Novgorod six days later.

If, as expected, both Southgate’s side and Belgium book their passage through to the knockout phase with six points before their encounter in Kaliningrad on Thursday, 28 June, then that game becomes a dead rubber.

Given Belgium’s superior strength-in-depth, it is bold to bet against them for the England game. Roberto Martinez sets the side up similar to Southgate with three centre-backs and one out-and-out striker.

While the Europeans do battle for group supremacy, the other match is about avoiding the wooden spoon. Tunisia are chosen over Panama because they have more major tournament knowhow.