The highly anticipated World Cup campaigns of Belgium and England begin in Group G, though the two sides are sure to not have it all their own way.

Belgium

Road to Russia

The Belgians were the dominant force of their group in qualifying. The Red Devils dominated the likes of Greece, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Estonia, Cyprus and newcomers Gibraltar to finish the campaign undefeated with a goal difference of +37.

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Romeo Lukaku was a force upfront, his 11 strikes making him the third most prolific attacker in the European side of FIFA World Cup qualification.

Coach

Roberto Martinez has been coaching Belgium’s national men’s team since 2016. The former Everton gaffer has been somewhat divisive in his time with the European nation, with particular controversy surrounding his omission of Roma star Radja Nainggolan for the trip to Russia.

In spite of this, Belgium’s spectacular qualification campaign holds Martinez and his 3-4-2-1 in good stead.

Key Player

Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois, Dries Mertens and Axel Wiesel are just a taste of the familiar firepower that Belgium possesses, however fans of the English Premier League would know that one man is perhaps more feared than the rest; Kevin De Bruyne.

De Bruyne was integral to the plans of Pep Guardiola and Manchester City in their title-winning season and the 26-year-old playmaker will surely carry that momentum  for the Benelux nation in perhaps their best chance yet to win some serious silverware.

Verdict

The favourites to top Group G are favourites for good reason. If Roberto Martinez can keep the Belgian machine ticking over, the Red Devils may become a real chance to win it all.

Panama

Road to Russia

Panama were every Australian’s favourite team in World Cup qualifying, as a late winner in their final match over Costa Rica condemned the USA to their lounge suites over the next few weeks. The following day was declared a national holiday for the Central American nation, such was the miraculousness of the situation.

Coach

Hernan Dario “National Hero” Gomez has taken a country best known for its canal to a FIFA World Cup. Los Canaleros line up as a 4-4-2 under his watchful gaze, though he will be looking to take Panama further than he took Colombia (1998) and Ecuador (2002), who each suffered group stage exits.

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Key Players

A resilient defence has been the key to Panama’s recent successes. Having conceded just 10 goals in their 10 qualification matches, Roman Torres and captain Felipe Baloy will need to lead from the front, at the back. A combined age of 69 certainly shows they have plenty of experience (n i c e).

Verdict

In all likeliness, an early exit for the debutants. Will need a result against Belgium in Match Day 1 if they are to have any hope.

Tunisia

Road to Russia

Tunisia return to the World Cup for the first time in 12 years, looking to record their first victory in the tournament since 1978. A near flawless qualifying campaign (4W-2D-0L) ensured the Eagles of Carthage’s passage to Russia.

Coach

Nabil Maaloul is a former footballer for Hannover 96 and Tunisia and garners plenty of respect in his home country. Usually a proponent of the 4-2-3-1, the 55-year-old will be put to the test at his first ever World Cup as a player or coach.

Key Players

The country’s top scorer and most capped outfield player Youssef Msakni is out with a knee injury, however Wahbi Khazri will prove a vital cog for the Tunisians. Currently suiting up for Sunderland, the attacking midfielder has 12 goals from 35 appearances.

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Keep an eye on marauding winger Naim Sliti, who will be quite the handful for their opponents on the left wing.

Verdict

Without perhaps their star player in Msakni most expect an unexciting group stage exit, however expect the Tunisians to fight tooth and nail to be in contention to progress on the final match day.

England

Road to Russia

Another side undefeated in their qualification campaign, the Three Lions avoided any precarious situations in a lightweight group to win eight, draw twice and lose none.

Although their watertight defence conceded just three goals they only netted 18, which would have some of the English worried despite the firepower that they do possess.

Coach

Gareth Southgate is the latest Englishman to endure perhaps one of the most difficult managerial outposts in world football. The former Aston Villa and England defender seems the type suited to the role, always composed and rarely rattled. His 3-5-1-1 is one of the most intriguing formations and will be put the test against Belgium.

Key Players

Harry Kane. The captain and heavyweight striker carries the exaggerated expectations of the nation that ‘invented football’, and is one of few players that can surely be trusted on such a big stage.

The talismanic frontman will need an unwavering defence behind him, with Manchester City pair John Stones and Kyle Walker crucial in maintaining that.

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Verdict

Should progress to the Round of 16 and perhaps further, though we also said that in 2010…

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