Russia 2018 World Cup Preview: Group G
When the World Cup draw was made, few groups offered a straightforward selection of teams to make it through. Although Group G, made up of Belgium, Panama, Tunisia and England did exactly that. With Belgium's golden generation still intact (despite Radja Naingolan's snub), the Red Devils certainly look to be favorites. England have churned out some sub-par performances in recent major tournaments, but when compared to Tunisia and new-comers Panama, the Three Lions look a cut above.
Suffice to say, England has never lost to African opposition whether in a friendly or a competitive game. With Panama tipped to be the whipping boys, wins against the South Americans and Tunisia two should see Gareth Southgate's men safely progress to the next round. The final group game between Belgium and England is therefore expected to be a fight for top spot.
But a careful look at the North Africans' past shows anything is possible. Historically, the Carthage Eagles have proved themselves capable of holding their own against European opposition. Starting with their debut at the World Cup in 1978 where they drew Germany 0-0 in their second group game. Tunisia also managed to secure a 1-1 draw against Belgium in the 2002 edition. In recent warm-up games for Russia, they drew 2-2 with Turkey, held Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, and it took Spain a late winner to defeat them. This big-game experience will certainly serve them well.
However, after making it to the World Cup for the first time in the country's history, one needs only to look at the circumstances surrounding Panama's qualification to know writing them off so early could be a mistake. After having been denied a chance to qualify for the 2014 World Cup by conceding two stoppage-time goals, Los Canaleros could not be denied this time around. They beat Costa Rica 2-1 to qualify ahead of the USA.