England's World Cup 2018 Group G opponents guide: How they qualified, style of play and most dangerous players

BELGIUM

Fifa ranking 5

World Cup record

  • 1930: Group stage
  • 1934: 1st round
  • 1938: 1st round
  • 1950: Withdrew
  • 1954: Group stage
  • 1958: DNQ
  • 1962: DNQ
  • 1966: DNQ
  • 1970: Group stage
  • 1974: DNQ
  • 1978: DNQ
  • 1982: Second group stage
  • 1986: Semi-final
  • 1990: Second round
  • 1994: Second round
  • 1998: Group stage
  • 2002: Second round
  • 2006: DNQ
  • 2010: DNQ
  • 2014: Quarter-final

Head-to-head v England

Played 21
Won 1
Drawn 5
Lost 15

How they qualified

Spectacularly. Belgium were the first European side to qualify for the World Cup, eventually finishing nine points clear of second-placed Greece. They scored 43 goals in qualifying, the joint-highest tally along with Germany, and only conceded six. A highlight of their recent friendlies was Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku becoming the country’s all-time record goalscorer at the age of just 24. He has 31 goals in 65 appearances for his country.

The man England must stop

Where to start? Eden Hazard and Lukaku are two of the Premier League’s finest attacking players, while Dries Mertens has been in electric form for high-flying Napoli. The key man, though, is Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, who has been the standout player in English football this season.

Kevin De Bruyne (right) and Marouane Fellaini

Credit:
AFP

You might recognise…

There will be no shortage of familiar faces considering the spine of this Belgium team play their club football in the Premier League. Chelsea’s goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is the first choice between the sticks, while it will be impossible to miss Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini.

Who’s the manager?

Roberto Martinez. The former Swansea, Wigan and Everton manager took over in August last year. He replaced Marc Wilmots, who left the job two weeks after Belgium had been stunned by Wales in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. One of his assistants is former Arsenal striker Thierry Henry.

What’s their style?

Despite all the attacking players at their disposal, the Belgian style of play has been a source of contention. De Bruyne, in particular, was very unhappy with the side’s tactics last month. “As long as we don’t have a good tactical system, we will have difficulties,” he said. “It’s a pity that we have not yet found a solution.”

Historic high point

Belgium reached the semi-finals of the 1986 World Cup, where they were undone by a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina. Maradona scored both goals in Argentina’s 2-0 victory.

Historic low point

Belgium failed to qualify for both the 2006 and 2010 World Cup finals. They also did not make it past the group stages of Euro 2000, when they co-hosted the tournament.

If they were a Premier League they would be…

Tottenham Hotspur. Exciting, talented and fun to watch, but there is a noticeable lack of trophies in the cabinet.

 

TUNISIA

Fifa ranking27

World Cup record

  • 1930: Part of France
  • 1934: Part of France
  • 1938: Part of France
  • 1950: Part of France
  • 1954: Part of France
  • 1958: Did not enter
  • 1962: DNQ
  • 1966: Withdrew
  • 1970: DNQ
  • 1974: DNQ
  • 1978: Group stage
  • 1982: DNQ
  • 1986: DNQ
  • 1990: DNQ
  • 1994: DNQ
  • 1998: Group stage
  • 2002: Group stage
  • 2006: Group stage
  • 2010: DNQ
  • 2014: DNQ

Head-to-head v England

Played 2
Won 0
Drawn 1
Lost 1

How they qualified

Tunisia topped African Group A by winning four and drawing two of their six games. Qualification was eventually secured thanks to a 0-0 draw at home to Libya. It has not all been plain sailing, though. Former manager Henry Kasperczak was sacked in April this year after Tunisia were knocked out of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in the quarter-finals, where they lost 2-0 to Burkina Faso.

The man England must stop

Forward Youssef Msakni, who plays his club football in Qatar, is the primary attacking threat. The 27 year-old scored a crucial hat-trick in a 4-1 win over Guinea in October. England will also need to keep an eye on midfielder Mohamed Amine Ben Amor, who scored one and created two in that victory.

Youssef Msakni (right) in action for Tunisia

Youssef Msakni (right) in action for Tunisia

Credit:
AP

You might recognise…

Few Sunderland fans will have fond memories of attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri, who is currently on loan at Ligue 1 side Rennes. Khazri scored just one goal in 21 Premier League appearances as Sunderland were relegated last season. He has five goals in nine games for Rennes so far this time around, though.

Who’s the manager?

Nabil Maaloul was appointed manager in April this year. It is his second time in charge of the national side, although his first stint, in 2013, ended after just seven months. He made 74 appearances for Tunisia as a player, and has also served as manager of Kuwait.

What’s their style?

Msakni and Khazri are primarily responsible for Tunisia’s attacking threat. Maaloul largely used a typical 4-2-3-1 formation in qualification but is willing to line his team up more conservatively if required and would be expected to do so against England. Tunisia conceded just four goals in six qualifying games, scoring 11.

Historic high point

Tunisia became the first African team to win a match at the World Cup finals when their very own golden generation defeated Mexico 3-1 at the Rosario stadium in Argentina.

Historic low point

After becoming World Cup regulars with three consecutive finals appearances, the failure to reach South Africa in 2010 was disappointment. In 2010, they finished bottom of their Africa Cup of Nations group.

If they were a Premier League club they would be…

Newcastle United. The glory years have long since passed, but there was a revival of sorts in the late 90s and early 00s. On the up once more.

 

PANAMA

Fifa ranking 56

World Cup record

Have never previously qualified

Head-to-head v England

Have never played each other

How they qualified

In dramatic and controversial circumstances. Panama leap-frogged the USA in their qualifying group with a 2-1 victory over Costa Rica in October. Their opening goal, scored by Gabriel Torres, was awarded despite the ball not appearing to cross the line, and then Roman Torres scored a remarkable 87th-minute winner that ensured qualification. The country’s president promptly declared the next day to be a national holiday.

The man England must stop

Gabriel Gomez is an experienced operator in midfield with more than 130 international appearances to his name. Like many of his team-mates, he is well into his 30s. Another one to watch is forward Blas Perez, who has scored 43 international goals in 113 appearances.

Panama midfielder Gabriel Gomez

Panama midfielder Gabriel Gomez

Credit:
ICON SPORTSWIRE

You might recognise…

Frankly, it’s highly unlikely that you will recognise anyone, although the man who has had the most air-time on these shores is captain Roman Torres. It was his late goal that earned qualification, while his distinguished dreadlocks mark him out from the crowd. MLS fans may have seen him playing for Seattle Sounders.

Who’s the manager?

Hernan Dario Gomez, from Colombia, took the reigns in 2014. Nicknamed ‘El Bolillo’ or ‘the Truncheon’, he has twice managed the Colombia national team in the past and has also been in charge of Ecuador. He resigned from the Colombia job in 2011 after striking a woman in a bar.

What’s their style?

Panama are an ageing team who rely on organisation and defensive solidity. They will look to catch teams on the break but, first of all, will try to avoid any humiliating scorelines. England can expect to have plenty of the ball but will need to find a way of cracking the defence.

Historic high point

Qualification for Russia is the high point, but they did finish as runners-up in the 2005 and 2013 editions of the Gold Cup.

Historic low point

Panama were minutes away from securing a play-off place in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, but conceded two goals in stoppage time to lose 3-2 to the USA.

If they were a Premier League club they would be…

Panama have no Premier League equivalent. They are more like an international version of Walsall.

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