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England and Belgium Set For a Draw in Group G Decider

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June 27, 2018
England thrashed Panama 6-1 in Group G

England v Belgium, Thursday 28th June, 15:00

In their dreams, Gareth Southgate and Roberto Martinez would have had this tie down as a group decider with their team’s place in the Round of 16 already assured. And so it came to pass. Both sides have negotiated their opening two games with relative ease and now all that’s left is for them to sort out who finishes first and second.

For their part, Southgate’s England turned record breakers in Sunday’s game with Panama by racking up a 6-1 win – their biggest ever victory in a World Cup finals tournament. Skipper Harry Kane again led the charge with a hat-trick – two penalties and a fortunate deflection from a Ruben Loftus-Cheek shot – but was ably assisted by centre-back John Stones, who scored with two headers, and a contender for goal of the tournament from Jesse Lingard.

Perspective is still required of course, and Panama offered very little other than a desire to grapple, foul and contest every refereeing decision, but England fans need no reminding that in the recent past mediocre opposition have often proved to be both banana skins and sources of embarrassment. Not this time. England were clinical and ruthless, much of this borne of Kane’s late, late show against Tunisia, which not only secured three points but gave his side a massive boost of belief and confidence.

The big question for Southgate (and Martinez) is around team selection and whether or not to utilise what is effectively a dead-rubber to give unused squad members game time. It’s a conundrum in that, while there are players who clearly need time on the pitch to hone their fitness, this England side has both momentum and a winning habit. Will he risk disrupting that? It’s a big call.

Belgium find themselves in a similar position to England – they too took time to find their feet after a stuttering opening game but found form in their second. Tunisia, who let’s not forget were within a couple of minutes of drawing with England, were swatted aside by the Belgians with rather more ease.

Two goals apiece for Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku and another from Chelsea’s Michy Batshuayi helped them to a 5-2 win, but most agreed it was a scoreline that didn’t do justice to the North African’s contribution over the 90 minutes. However, it only served to highlight the attacking threat contained within Martinez’ squad – something that Team Southgate will be only too aware of.

Thursday’s clash, while academic in terms of qualification, will determine the route each team will take through the knockout stages and, bizarrely, as things stand the side that finishes second in the group will have, on paper, an easier passage to (dare to dream) the semi-finals. While neither side will set out to lose, expect both Southgate and Martinez to make changes – the latter having already confirmed that he will be using his wider squad for the England game – and therefore predicting an outcome will be decidedly tricky. Given that neither side will want to pick up injuries and that there could be an element of disjointed-ness with the new faces on display, don’t rule out a low scoring draw.

Tunisia and Panama to Combine for Goals Before World Cup Exit

Will Tunisia and Panama put on a show before exiting the World Cup?

Panama v Tunisia, Thursday 28th June, 19:00

The battle for Group G’s wooden spoon promises to be a bruising one if both team’s opening two games are anything to go by. Both have been up against it so far and have attempted to level the playing field by using the physical approach and the game’s dark arts. Neither have succeeded, although it has to be said that the Tunisians have shown glimpses of the aesthetically pleasing football they played in qualifying.

That both teams have come up short is a shame given the arduous route that both took to qualify for the finals, but football can be cruel, and both have found their World Cup final experience to be over almost before it has begun.

The Tunisians, it shouldn’t be forgotten, were within a couple of minutes of getting a draw with England and enjoyed a particularly good spell against the English in the first half after they had equalised. While playing with an attacking intent they caused Southgate’s back-three problems – no question – and there must be an element of regret that in order to contain the English attacking threat they retreated into their collective shell in the second half. A continuation of their attacking intentions may well have led to a more expansive second half, but optimism gave way to pragmatism and they ultimately paid the price.

Against Belgium, they again played some good stuff, and their effort and desire never once diminished as the goals flew in. They were good value for the two goals they scored and, while defeat was clearly crushing for them as it meant the end to their tournament, they will have taken heart and confidence from scoring twice. They will fancy their chances against the Panamanians and with good reason.

Panama, by contrast, will take the field in their final game with their confidence having taken a battering against England. To have conceded five first-half goals, when their intention would have been to keep it tight and try and frustrate the English, was clearly a major blow but how they went about their business as the tide turned against them was disappointing. However, having scored their first World Cup goal against England, the Panamanians will now be looking to get their first World Cup point – and let’s not rule it out.

Tunisia will start favourites but with nothing left to play for, both sides could see this match as a free hit. It should be free of tension and, as a result, may be full of goals with both sides wanting to end their stay in Russia on a high.

About the author

Eric Roberts
Eric Roberts

Sports Journalist

Eric has been a sports journalist for over 20 years and has travelled the world covering top sporting events for a number of publications. He also has a passion for betting and uses his in-depth knowledge of the sports world to pinpoint outstanding odds and value betting opportunities.