No fear of England for Tunisia, Panama

Muriel Hammond
December 2, 2017

Danger lurked throughout the 32-team draw for the World Cup but England avoided the toughest opposition as they were drawn, by Diego Maradona, in Group G alongside Belgium, Tunisia and the World Cup debutants Panama.

Belgium head coach Roberto Martinez says he is excited about facing England at the 2018 World Cup.

"Tunisia takes me back to Marseille", the 47-year-old said, "one of the best days of my life, playing my first game in the World Cup finals for England, an incredible atmosphere and I remember the colour of it, the Beatles music playing before the game".

That could be seen as a match to decide the victor of the group, but, with England having finished second in a group containing United States, Slovenia and Algeria in 2010, before failing to get out of a group also boasting Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica in 2014, Southgate feels a team that lost to Iceland in last 16 of the European Championship previous year can ill-afford to look beyond any opponent.

"We've got six days of rest after our first game, which if they are anxious about travel, that shouldn't be an issue".

"That is the most important thing for us".

"What's exciting for our team is, although we lack some big match experience and we don't have at the moment trophies and medals on the table for a lot of the lads, I think that's all ahead for them and what's possible is exciting".

In their 12 previous World Cup fixtures Tunisia have kept just one clean sheet, in a goalless draw against holders West Germany.

But the matches against Tunisia and England will be particularly evocative for their coach Hernan Dario Gomez.

"Panama are very happy with this group. Panama are learning and trying to progress", he said.

When told that England manager Gareth Southgate said Belgium are favourites to win the group, the former Everton and Wigan manager said: "We see England as favourites".

Starting on the tournament's fifth day will also give Southgate longer to prepare after the Premier League season, although Tunisia's manager Nabil Maaloul pointed out this also helps his team as it means they do not have to play while fasting for Ramadan. "We played Wales and they have more or the less the same style".

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